Social media was created for a sense of community—and now, more than ever, we all need interaction with other humans, even if it is over the internet. Through social media, we are able to find like-minded people all over the world and easily interact with them, learn from them, and be friends with them. In fact, 75% of all internet users are on social media. These users are spending 2.5 hours daily on an average of seven different social network accounts. We use social media to connect with friends and family during these (physically) socially distanced times, but is it making us unhappy?
Short answer: yes. Some studies are showing that teens and young adults are reporting higher rates of depression than those who spend less time online, rising from 13-66 percent.1 However, studies are showing a correlation, not a causation between social media usage and our mental health. Because it changes and evolves so quickly, and the history of social media is so short, not enough studies on the topic have been conducted. Therefore, long term scientific effects are not yet known. Below are some effects people have reported from using social media frequently:
Perceived isolation Feeling FOMO (fear of missing out) when we scroll through friend’s accounts. Thinking “Why didn’t they invite me?” when constantly looking at the activities and lives of other people online.
Lowered self-esteem Constantly comparing our lives with those of our friends, celebrities, and influencers with the personas that they display online. “Facebook envy” has been on the rise and is a recognized term by health professionals.
Less healthy activity Not leaving enough time for exercise and outdoor activity. Always having phones at the ready while at the gym, running, or otherwise focused on the activity. Exercise is necessary for both mental and physical health.
Disrupted concentration Attention spans are shorter than ever, and now more than ever we’re completely distracted. We crave the dopamine hit from notifications, “likes,” and comments from our social media apps. This instant gratification is “addicting without being satisfying.”2 according to Dr. Alexandra Hamlet of the Child Mind Institute.
Sleep deprivation The blue light from our device screens discourages melatonin production making it difficult to fall asleep each night. Being anxious, envious or otherwise distracted is also keeping us from getting enough sleep. Proper sleep is critical for mental health.
Making memories Not being present in the moment. Always trying to get the “perfect” photo or looking at the “perfect” photos of others. When we look back on our lives, we should have authentic memories that we can cherish and not forgotten photos and “likes.”
Comparison culture is toxic and pervasive on social media and shows us in real time how we’re keeping up (or not keeping up) with others. We look at celebrity and influencer profiles that have the “perfect” aesthetic and we compare them to our own hair, makeup, physique, vacations, jobs, homes—our entire lives. Jerry Bubrick, PhD, is a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute in New York City. He states that “the more we use social media, the less we think about being in the present moment.”3
On the other hand, the human connection aspect of social media makes us feel included, heard and that we belong. Human connection is essential because it encourages compassion and empathy for others which the world needs more of right now. For anyone that finds socializing in-person to be difficult, social media can be that link to human interaction. For instance, those with anxiety disorders, Asperger’s, or physical disabilities rely on social media to feel connected to others.
How can we continue to use social media without harming our mental health? Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Designate specific times for social media usage and for non-social media times (e.g. phone-free Fridays)
- Stay physically active! This helps your body and your brain stay
- Model behavior for your kids. If the rule is no phones at the dinner table, mean it!
- Be mindful of how you really feel online. Do certain people, pages, or posts make you feel bad about yourself? Unfollow them
- Taking a hiatus from social media can help you reconnect with yourself, your family and your
- Refrain from social media 1-3 hours before your
- Seek a professional if you’re feeling signs of depression or if you’ve noticed any severe changes in your mood or daily
Sources: psycom.net, pewresearch.org, blog.hootsuite.com, psychologytoday.com Caroline Miller, Does Social Media Cause Depression? New York: Child Mind Institute, 2020 https://childmind.org/article/is-social-media-use-causing-depression/
1 Caroline Miller, Does Social Media Cause Depression? New York: Child Mind Institute, 2020 https://childmind.org/article/is-social-media-use-causing-depression/