Does Social Media impact on our Mental Health?

Last month, the BBC aired Panorama Documentary Sleepless Britain by Jenny Kleeman. Ross Bright explores the issues regarding social media and its potential risks to our mental health which is overlooked and ignored, particularly among younger generations.

Medical experts and academics are agreeing on the detrimental effects of social media. There have been countless studies in recent years illustrating the potential negative impact of social media on our mental health. It can lead to feelings of anxiety, isolation and depression, not to mention poor sleep and personal development as Jenny Kleeman showed in Sleepless Britain.

Social media has become such an integrated component of human interaction. A huge proportion of our social reality is now played out in the huge 24/7 globally connected arenas of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat. According to the World Economic Forum, if the numbers of monthly active users of social media platforms were compared to national populations in the world then 5 out of the top 8 nations would be social media platforms (1.Facebook, 4.WhatsApp, 5.Instagram, 7.Twitter, 8.Snapchat). The global use and connectivity of social media is clear to see.

Social Media Logos | BrickInNick

We now have a generation growing up that know no different than to live their personal lives out in the public domain of Facebook and Instagram. On our social media profiles we share intimate images to online ‘friends’ valuing their comments, posting engineered images of holidays, social gatherings, gym sessions and images of healthy food as the lives we live. We feel pressured to live our lives in the public domain seeking reassurances in the form of likes, comments and shares.

When we receive an underwhelming number of ‘likes’, shares or comments feelings of inadequacy flourish, we even remove posts that do not get any likes, retweets or comments. This lack of attention on our posts makes us doubt ourselves, hitting our self-esteem and starts to make us second-guess our appearance, personality and our online ‘brand’.

We even surveil our online ‘friends’ comparing our lives with theirs, seeing that they are having fun while we are not. This tendency produces feelings of depression, isolation, loneliness and envy, according to Nathan Hurst at Missouri University and Melissa Carroll at the University of Houston. The feelings of dissatisfaction that we feel scrolling through our newsfeed or a friend’s profile often results from comparing our true reality to our ‘friends’ idealised, perfectly framed and edited instagramed reality.

Talkspace Therapist, Nicole Amesbury MC, understands that the human brain is wired to release dopamine when we receive good news. So for every like our comment our post gets, we get a hit of dopamine. This is the same way addiction works for drugs and alcohol, and it is how we become hooked. But when the likes, comments and shares stop, the dopamine drops and we crash leaving the feelings of depression, isolation and loneliness that Nathan Hurst and Melissa Carroll have illustrated.

Image: Thinkstock

According to new research, 7 million Britons are left depressed after using social media. This problem affects 1 in 5 people of us whom belong to social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. A study from the University of Pittsburgh found further evidence that the more young adults use social media, the more likely they are to be depressed.

We are feeling increasingly abandoned in a world of rapidly expanding technology, as our lives do not measure up to others in comparison. The same gadgets that we use to enhance our social lives are damaging it. It’s now easier than ever before to conduct entire relationships without any physical or audial interaction at all. These technological advancements and social media platforms have caused an explosion of mental health issues since the turn of the century according to leading child psychotherapist Julie Lynn Evans.

The period of thinking online platforms are not ‘real’ has passed. The increasing importance we have given to social media platforms through these personal, professional and business spheres and the need for validation and self-indulgence through the bright lights of a screen is a drug.

As technological advancements continue to rapidly change, our relationship to technology will become ever more integrated in the way we live our day-to-day lives, and so the importance of social media will continue to grow. We need to educate ourselves further on this relationship and impact of social media and mental health to manage it better for the benefits of our health and wellbeing and for the future developments of technology to better understand this in their design of these platforms.

Feature image: Stux | Pixabay


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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