The rise of social media over the last decade has been a phenomenon of the human experience. According to the Pew Research Center, 69 percent of adults and 81 percent of teens in the U.S. use social media, making the usage commonplace for most people. A lot of good has come from it:
- Staying in touch with long-distance friends and family
- Ease in planning events
- Streamlining selling used and new goods
- Organizing and sharing photos and videos
- Sharing widespread entertainment
However, as it becomes the norm and usage rises, other things are rising too — like increased mental health issues among Americans. One recent study found that nearly one-third of Americans have reported feeling depressed, increasing compared to pre-pandemic numbers.
And science agrees that there is evidence surrounding this area of mental wellbeing. In recent years, numerous studies are finding a link between social media and mental health issues. Several studies are finding that increased usage of social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, etc. “can have a detrimental effect on the psychological health of its users.”
Here’s what you need to know about using social media and mental health:
Social media can increase anxiety and depression.
When it comes to social media and mental health, the most common link is increased depression and anxiety. Often, what science finds as the culprit isn’t necessarily the use of social media itself but rather the amount of time spent on it.
One scientific review spotlighted a study that found playing games or communicating on social media for more than four hours a day can predict if someone will experience depressive symptoms one year later. On the flip side, similar research also found that people who experience depressive symptoms can display increased internet usage while simultaneously also showing decreased participation in non-screen activities.
Another study found that the link between social media use and mental health issues– specifically the development of depression– was positively correlated. However, unlike the first study, if a participant had pre-existing depression, their amount of social media usage could not be predicted.
Experts say this is one of the problems of studying the link between social media and mental health. “One possible explanation for our results is that people who are at risk for depression, even if they’re not currently depressed, are more likely to use social media,” researcher Roy H. Perlis, M.D., M.Sc., said in an interview with Medical News Today. “Another is that social media contributes to that increased risk.”
Still, researchers continue to study the link between social media and mental health and what is best for people’s mental well-being. During the Covid Pandemic, increased social media usage was linked to increased depression and anxiety in one study that noted the spread of misinformation on social media platforms as another issue that caused a decline in mental well-being.
As the human brain is studied more, there is also evidence that certain qualities of social media can negatively impact our minds. “Our brains were not built for this kind of social interaction. And social media is kind of hijacking the need for social interaction with something very artificial and insufficient,” said Mitch Prinstein, chief science officer for the American Psychological Association, in an interview with NBC News. “Social media is the empty calories of social interaction.”
Social media can disrupt our sleep.
Whether you think social media is causing your mental well-being to suffer or not, many can agree that it is probably negatively disrupting sleep.
One 2019 study linked social media and mental health with “disrupted and delayed sleep.” Mounting scientific evidence continuously points to the fact that sleeping problems contribute to negative mental wellbeing such as:
- Memory loss
- Cognitive issues like brain fog and mood swings
Light is known to impact a person’s circadian rhythm from sunlight or an artificial light source. However, studies show that the blue light that electronics emit can negatively affect sleep as it stimulates parts of the brain. So when you find yourself winding down with a quick Facebook scrolling session in bed, you could be rewiring your brain to feel alert by accident.
According to the Sleep Foundation, approximately 21 percent of adults report waking up to check their phones during the night. This puts them at an even higher risk of losing sleep and developing a sleep disorder like insomnia. Considering 70 percent of people admit to using social media after going to bed, this can cause concern.
Sleep is essential for maintaining health– both physical and mental well-being. To ensure that social media isn’t negatively affecting your mental health, try this at night:
- Set your phone to limit social media use after a specific time at night
- Charge your phone in a separate room away from where you sleep
- Change your settings to limit the amount of blue light being emitted from your phone
- Buy a physical alarm clock to get rid of the excuse that you need your phone on your nightstand
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Social media specifically impacts teens.
With teenagers being the most significant percentage of social media users, studies have been done to see the link between social media and mental health for young, still-developing brains.
A 2019 study cautioned that their findings linked teenagers who use social media for more than three hours a day to increased mental health issues such as:
- Antisocial behavior
If three hours are concerning, the 2015 Common Sense Survey‘s findings that teenagers spend as much as nine hours a day online are even more disturbing. And, especially when many teenagers surveyed in these kinds of studies even expressed concern that they were spending too much time on social media platforms.
Another devastating link found between social media and mental health for teenagers is an increase in suicide attempts. A 2021 study found that girls who used social media starting at age 13 for a minimum of two hours daily had a higher clinical risk of suicide than adults.
Get help managing your mental health.
When it comes to checking in with yourself regarding your mental health, sometimes it’s hard to realize there’s an issue until it’s too late. Whether you’re concerned that there’s a negative link between social media usage and mental health issues for you or a loved one, you don’t have to navigate this area alone.
Especially with how the last couple of years have affected everyone with the pandemic, quarantine, virtual work and learning, etc., many people find themselves struggling with mental health issues they don’t know how to deal with.
Working with a therapist can help. Not only can a licensed professional help diagnose specific issues you may be experiencing regarding your mental well-being, but they’ll also help guide you through strategies to cope with whatever you’re struggling with. Maybe that’s finding a plan to better manage your social media usage, or perhaps it’s finding a holistic approach to living. Whatever the case may be, a mental health professional can make a difference in your quality of life.
If you’re in the state of Pennsylvania, Native is here to help. Our team of licensed professionals specializes in several types of therapy to better serve you and your mental well-being.