Negative Impact of Social Media

In the past, we’ve discussed the prospect of using technology including smartphones to help in our pursuit of mental wellness. Smartphones allow us the opportunity to access simple and quick applications that can target certain aspects of mental health/wellness. The apps we’ve written about in the past can help you to de-stress or provide you with positive affirmations. While the technology provides a wonderful opportunity for enhancing mental health at our fingertips, it can also have a negative impact on our mental well-being.

Even before the ubiquity of smartphones, the creation of websites like MySpace and Facebook created a culture centered around profiles and perception. While these websites were created with the intention of connecting friends and sharing memories, it also created a culture of comparison and highly curated presentations to the online world. As our online worlds went mobile and became even more integrated into our lives, more websites and apps appeared that required more of our attention. This problem of focusing on our online presentation can be especially damaging to children and teenagers, who grew up in a world where smartphones and online profiles were simply always the norm.

A new report by the Royal Society for Public Health sought out to examine both the positive and negative effects that social media has on youth mental health. The study surveyed over 1,500 youth ages 14-24 on social media usage and mental health issues. Instagram was found to have the most detrimental effect on mental health followed closely by Snapchat. Facebook and Twitter both also had overall negative effects on mental health. The report suggests that image-focused apps such as Instagram create a culture where mostly highly-curated, photoshopped and ultimately unrealistic images are posted and shared. In addition to creating negative body images, these apps also disrupted sleep patterns due to users having a ‘fear of missing out.’

Despite the overall negative impact apps such as Instagram can have, they can also have an upside. They create outlets for self-expression, sources of support and building new relationships that can have a positive impact on mental health. Youtube is the only app demonstrated by the study to have an overall positive impact on mental health. The reasons for this are unclear but it seems that YouTube offers a broader array of positive videos focusing on education, learning new skills, healthy living and other healthy habits. The study also suggested that the longer young adults are on social media, the greater the negative impact. Therefore it is not fair to simply say that social media has a negative impact on mental health. It is more accurate to say that it depends on both how and how long social media is used.

Therefore, the argument for smartphones, apps and social media is the same as can be made for any other tool – it can be used in both good and bad ways. The current data suggests that, to date, social media has an overall negative impact on our mental health and this impact increases the longer we use such apps. How we use these apps, however, also appears to be key and it is possible that we can use social media only in healthy and beneficial ways. The report concludes with a variety of measures they would suggest to combat these issues. The most relevant and important suggestion they make focuses on education. By being aware of these risks, we can monitor ourselves and our loved ones for both how and how long we use social media. Thoughtfulness and awareness of the pros and cons of social media can be powerful tools in combating the negative and promoting the positives aspects of using social media. Again, as is true with any tool, the benefits or risk of using social media is the responsibility of the user. It is up to us as individuals to determine whether we will use these technologies to our benefit or not.