A brief exploration into Social Media & Mental Wellbeing

Impossible
Jul 24 · 4 min read

Is ‘anti-social media’ in control of us, rather than the other way around?

More than three billion people, around 40% of the world’s population, use online social media — spending an average of two hours every day. With social media playing such a big part in our lives, could we be sacrificing our mental health and well being?

The chances are, this is not the first time this argument has been brought to your attention. Perhaps you have even tried to limit your use of social media or give yourself a break from particular sites. It is becoming increasingly recognised that what was heralded as a glorious way to stay connected with friends and family, and communicate ideas and news globally, has a darker side when allowed to operate unchecked.

Perhaps one of the biggest problems has been the rise of social media in conjunction with the smartphone, with a purported 1 in 3 people owning one. People are literally connected at all times, carrying around a wealth of likes and comments in their pockets. Whilst for some, this ‘social validation’ can be positive and increase self confidence, too often the opposite is true. Simultaneously likes and shares act as a psychological ‘reward’, and such reinforcement makes the behaviour extremely addictive. So much so in fact, that facebook even has its own measurable psychological scale, the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale (BFAS).

A survey carried out by Anxiety UK on social media and its effects on emotions found that 53% of participants said social media sites had changed their behavior, and 51% of these said the change had been negative.

Nicky Lidbetter, the charity’s chief executive said:

“If you are predisposed to anxiety it seems that the pressures from technology act as a tipping point, making people feel more insecure and more overwhelmed.”

Worryingly, this problem is worse in teens and adolescents, who are the heaviest users. One study by the Pew Research Center showed that 95% of teens have access to a smartphone, and 45% say they are online ‘almost constantly’.

According to the Child Mind Institute, social media use can act as a ‘displacement’. If it’s replacing negative behaviours like drink driving, recreational drug taking or underage sex, it can be positive. However if it’s replacing face to face social interactions, the effects are usually negative.

Anxiety and depression brought about by prolonged social media use is much higher in girls, according to new research, and girls with symptoms of depression are twice as likely as boys to have been victims of online harassment. It can become a negative cycle - lower self-esteem feeds into social media use, causing activities like staying up late to check social media accounts and being woken by alerts in the night, which subsequently causes lack of sleep, which becomes another worrying factor contributing to depression and low mood.

So what is the solution? With a 9% year on year increase in users, social media clearly isn’t going anywhere. Bailey Parnell, Founder & CEO of SkillsCamp, suggests that we practise ‘safe social’ — recognising the negative patterns in our behaviour and thinking of strategies to manage them. In effect, taking control of our gadgets again, rather than being dominated by them.

If you are thinking of taking a break from social media, or limiting your use of particular sites, you will be in good company. 64% of Gen Z users are taking a break from social media, with 34% quitting completely.

Now that you’ve read this, why not log out, turn off and take a break….

Empty Day is a day of social media silence taking place on October 12, 2019. It’s a day we all agree to leave social media alone. Instead we agree to connect, reconnect, and maybe even go outside … we “go quietly” for a day. Click here to learn more it!

Impossible

Impossible

Written by

Innovation group and incubator. We are using design and technology to solve social and environmental issues. www.impossible.com

Impossible

Building the future of possibilities, not inevitabilities.

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