The Dark Side Of Social Media And It’s Impact On Mental Health August 7, 2017 – Posted in: Lifestyle – Tags: , , , , ,

Studies have shown that social media can be more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol. Well, that isn’t surprising since our phones have become an extension of our bodies, almost like a fifth limb. It lives, eats and sleeps with us. With a device perpetually on our palms and an addiction- in the form of social media- at our fingertips, the two serve as a perfect recipe to become a powerful determinant in our daily lives – albeit in subtleties inconspicuous.

One can walk through Orange County, attend an event in Cannes or witness migration in Serengeti, all inside a phone. The key to the world has arrived in a touch-screen and it is addictive. It interrupts your dinner, distracts you from work and sends an involuntary impulse to check it anytime your friend leaves to use the bathroom. So what could be the lesser known consequences of this addiction? We’re interested in understanding the down-sides of it.

According to a study conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) and the Young Health Movement (YHM), social media usage has massive effect on young adults since early adulthood is a potentially vulnerable time for emotional development. This rings true for the so-called “digital natives”–  who have never lived in a world without the internet. The study investigated popular platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Snapchat and Instagram. Here’s what RSPH CEO Shirley Crame had to say “It is interesting to see Instagram and Snapchat ranking as the worst for mental health and well-being – both platforms are very image-focused and it appears they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people,” While the photo-based platforms got points for self-expression and self-identity, it was also associated with high levels of anxiety, depression, bullying and FOMO, or the “fear of missing out.” Social media posts can also set unrealistic expectations and create feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. That is why its use is often linked to increased rates of anxiety, depression and poor sleep.

Studies have suggested that young people who spend more than two hours a day on social networking sites are more likely to report psychological distress. “Seeing friends constantly on holiday or enjoying nights out can make young people feel like they are missing out while others enjoy life,” And none of us really post the daily hardships we face. This pressure to always look great and present a perfect life consequently creates a de facto rule for others to follow and thus starts a trend. Instagram easily makes girls and women feel as if their bodies aren’t good enough as people add filters and edit their pictures in order for them to look ‘perfect’. The environment is further vitiated by apps that allow you to alter your photos to cover your pimples, whiten your teeth, to become thinner and prettier, all just with the swipe of your finger. This constant need to be liked and appreciated by peers and even strangers on the internet increases meaningless social media usage leading to depression.

The RSPH and YHM made a few recommendations to prevent negative emotions while using social media. The first suggestion is to show a popup when users spend too much time on social media. The second suggestion is for social media companies to monitor the posts of children that might be suffering from mental health problems. And the third suggestion is for social media companies to flag images that may have been digitally manipulated.

Fortunately, the study pointed out that there are many positive aspects to social media. For example, social media connects people that are experiencing health issues. Nearly 7 in 10 teens receive support on social media during tough times, thus helping prevent mental health issues. As teens develop, self-expression and self-identity become important aspects of life and social media facilitates that.

Among the platforms, YouTube got high marks for bringing awareness of other people’s health experiences, for providing access to trustworthy health information and for decreasing respondents’ levels of depression, anxiety, and loneliness. Sites like YouTube and Twitter may have been generally rated more positively because individuals were mostly viewing things more removed from their immediate lives, such as celebrity figures, or amusing or interesting video clips, whereas Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram tend to involve friends and family, and be more directly related to their users’ lives.

The Royal Society hopes to empower young adults to use social networks “in a way that protects and promotes their health and wellbeing”.

Social media isn’t going away soon, nor should it. It is imperative that we find innovative ways to tackle these down sides and be aware of such effects. It is encouraged to occasionally put the phone down, disconnect, spend time outdoors, reconnect with real life. Lack of credible and accessible information on dealing with depression, rejection and anxiety further worsens the downward spiral for young adults. Many do not trust or have the comfort to discuss their challenges with peers, teachers and parents. They fear that their friends would judge them and may no longer be accepted if they revealed their anxieties openly.

We strongly recommend sharing problems with your loved ones and also caring for those in need. We urge you to find online communities that empower rather than compare. The rosy feed isn’t all that rosy and truth be told, life is so much more than feed and followers. Every individual has the power to choose and we hope you choose empowering, positive things to look at on your phone.