The Mental Health Effects of Social Media Use

woman dealing with body dysmorphia

Social media has transformed our culture into one of over-sharing. As we spend more and more time online, it is important we look at how this may affect our mental health.

#NoFilter? Not Really: The False Reality of Social Media

Through Facebook posts, tweets and Instagram photos, we peep a snippet of someone’s edited life. Sometimes we find ourselves judging our own lives with these updates, tweets and photos. The comparisons we make to our realities are unfair, because these snippets are a #filtered perspective of someone else’s life. There is no such thing as #nofilter. The comparisons we make can cause feelings of inferiority that lead to low self-esteem.

How Social Media Affects Mental Health: Research and Studies

Low self-esteem is not the sole adverse side effect of intensive social media use. There have been significant links between our online presence and other aspects of our mental health. These connections have inspired the subject matter of many research studies around the world.

Depression

  • A correlation between social media use and depression exists, although most researchers acknowledge the relationship is complex.
  • A study by the University of Missouri-Columbia suggests Facebook users who experience envy could develop symptoms of depression.
  • Increasing amounts of Facebook use among first-year college students have been associated with higher levels of loneliness.
  • According to a research study published in Frontiers of Human Neuroscience, people who self-report using more social media have higher self-reports of depression.

Body Dysmorphia

Another area of concern is body image. Body dysmorphia — also known as body dysmorphic disorder — is “a preoccupation with what they imagine to be a defective body part or a distorted view of some small and insignificant defect.”

  • Research suggests increased amounts of time on Facebook may lead to body image insecurity. They further suggest that our comparisons to our friends’ photos are more influential than photos of celebrities.
  • A study in The International Journal of Eating Disorders showed Social Media exposure can promote distorted body image perception. Increased use of Facebook has additionally been associated with higher rates of disordered eating.

Even with the above studies providing insights, it’s clear the relationship between our social media habits and mental health is complex. The impact our online habits have on mental health is specific to the individual, which can complicate potential challenges. As social media occupies an ever-increasing footprint in both our world and daily lives, it is critical we learn more about the long-term effects on our mental health.

How Should We Deal with Social Media?

If you feel you might have developed some negative feelings through social media use, there is hope! Our team of therapists at Talkspace has reviewed the research on the effects of social media use on mental health. Social Media Dependency Therapy specializes in these concerns. Talkspace has developed this program for Talkspace users to reflect on how social media affects our well being and distorts our self image. The ultimate goal is reducing the negative emotions and compulsive behaviors surrounding its use.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt

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1 comment
  1. This article is very insightful into how we represent ourselves in an online environment and the repercussions that may pose to others. It would be interesting to further explore the reasoning behind our online identity representation if all it does is deteriorate others mental wellbeing. In a similar discussion, Lynette Vernon describes how teenagers tend to stay up later because they’re using social media to feel better about themselves, which in turn causes bad sleep habits leading to mental health problems (2015). However, this cycles back to them engaging with social media to feel good again. Maybe merging the two discussions together suggests that consuming social media and creating social media have different emotional repercussions?
    I also strongly agree with the idea that our friend’s photos are more influential than celebrity’s photos. I would suggest that strong similarities our lifestyles and our friends’ lifestyles create a more justified ground for comparison. Maybe this causes us to put our best foot forward in creating our online presence in an attempt to ‘one-up’ our friends, almost like a survival mechanism so we’re not left at the bottom of the social media food chain. I wonder how unsocial these social networking sites really make us…

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