The Social Media Spectrum of Mental Health: What is Social Media Doing to Our Mental Health?

Call the Millennial Generation what you will — the Net Generation, Generation Y, Peter Pan Generation, Generation Me, and so forth, but one thing can be distinguished already about the legacy of this cohort. The millennial will go down in history as being the guinea pigs for the modern technological revolution in the Western world.

According to a Pew Research poll from 2016, 88% of adults 18–29 are using Facebook around the world. The study does not go into depth on how long this demographic has actually been active on the social media site since its inception in 2006. Nor does it tell how many of those users were also exploratory consumers of Facebook during its inaugural year, or who transferred over from MySpace. The point though still remains, and that is that those are not merely insinuations, but the reality of technology for this generation of beta-testers.

Millennials, many of them, are the “13 years of age or older” that sites like Myspace, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and more require their users to be. These youth are the explorers who discovered the amazing worlds of networking, online dating, influencers, and many legitimate alternative career paths. However, they also stumbled upon the geography of cyberbullying, FOMO syndrome, online-dating, ghosting, socially accepted stalking, and other mental disorders and depressions onset by social media usage that we are still uncovering the ramifications of now and will continue to unearth moving into the future.

Body image is often cited as a primary cause of depression using social media.A recent scientific study by the UK’s Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), an independent charity focused on health education has found that Instagram, which caters to over 700 million users now — has the most negative impact on mental health. However, that is not the real news of this study. The real impact is that in this report that combines previously published research on the health impacts of social media with its own UK-wide survey of nearly 1,500 people between the ages of 14–24 — it found that all social platforms tested (Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube) that only YouTube came away with a net-positive result, while the rest had various levels of net-negative results on mental health.

A lot of the issue comes down to causing various forms of depression on a type of Social Media Spectrum of Depression. On a continuum like this, we can start to understand that there are subtle depressions brought on by lack of sleep from social media obsession, there is the Fear of Missing Out where anxieties and paranoia cause depressions (especially amongst young adults in relationships), and then there are the most extreme cases at the other end including cyberbullying and unrealistic body figure expectations due to highly edited photos being posted.

The positive takeaway from this is that we are coming to a point where the problems are cresting at the top of the hill, and we can now begin to really start working our way back to flat ground with social media — building a staircase behind us for the next generations to follow. The best thing this guinea pig generation can do is not to develop SEO based articles denying the mental damage that can be caused by social media, which has already started happening. Many arguments against these studies claim that an increased policing of the platforms for young adults showing suicidal or depressive traits would only cause them to recluse further and escalate it into a major epidemic.

My only suggestion stands as a simple proverb for my cohorts in this generational experiment is to fall away from a sense of policing, protecting, and criticizing a harsh curve, and instead build the expectations for future generations to follow, so the experimentation is taken out of the equation of social media in society — Build the dialect you wish the future to speak.

- JL