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How Social Media Affects Our Mental Health

I've studied psychology, criminal justice, addiction therapy, and journalism. I use my voice to help those who are not heard.

How can social media affect your mental health?

How can social media affect your mental health?

My Experience With Social Media

Remember Myspace?

My first interaction with social media was through Myspace (I'm old, I know). I loved how you could personalize your space and make it your own. My page was full of things from the 90s, and I was loving it. But in a blink of an eye, it all changed for me. I had my first experience with cyber stalking—and my first real experience with the strong emotion of hate. My stalker hated me, but she tried to be me. She would spread lies about me through her page, yet she copied my identity. It was the most bizarre behavior I had encountered thus far in my life. Her actions made me rethink this thing called "social media."

And Then There Was Facebook

Shortly after this, Myspace became a thing of the past. Facebook was all the rage. But despite its wild popularity, I always disliked Facebook. I felt it took our individuality away and made all of our pages exactly the same. I also found that I shared way too much. I found myself stuck to my tablet, clicking and sharing away for all the world to see. I didn't like what I was doing and who I was becoming, so I shut my page down.

I can't tell you how great that feels.

I Even Gave Instagram a Try

Thinking it would be a bit more mellow, I signed up for Instagram. I was wrong. I started out by sharing a few photos of myself, my husband, and our furbaby. Then I started sharing pictures of my art, my political beliefs and worldview, and other random stuff. While I haven't had any issues with other users (mainly due to the narrowed audience that I allowed to view my page), I found that I developed an obsession with gaining and losing followers. I had to take a step back from the situation and look at myself with a hard glare.

Why was I doing this? Why did it matter to me that I had followers? The truth is, it didn't (and still doesn't) matter at all. From my experience, the majority of my "followers" were just trying to get a large following so they would follow everyone they could in order to get their name and content out there.

I can happily say that I shut my Instagram page down as of this writing! It became an addiction of likes, subscriptions, followings, etc. It became a dark and lonely world. Personally, I want to go out and live without worry about taking a picture of my food, myself, or my environment so I can get likes. I just want to be.

How Has Social Media Affected Me?

For the past year, I've really thought about how social media may have changed me. I'm a pro-equality, pro-choice, anti-Trump artist, animal rights activist, and all-around hippie who tends to piss people off. I try to share truthful information with people, but sadly, they don't always like it. I've lost friends and family over my beliefs, and I've been verbally attacked by total strangers due to the fact that I don't believe what they believe. This made me think, "Is it possible that social media has affected the way we interact with each other? Have we forgotten how to respect one another?" In my opinion, the answer is yes—to an extent.

Although social media connects more people together, it also shields us to some degree. The harsh screen with its blinding light protects us from others, so we can either choose to act with compassion or be as brutal as we'd like. It really seems like humanity has lost some of itself through social media. We get into arguments with total strangers for (oftentimes) trivial reasons, we get upset if we don't get enough likes, and we lose actual contact with people—but sometimes, we just don't care.

What happened to the days of picking up the phone? No one seems to want to actually talk these days. We are a nation of small talk and talking just to talk. So where do we go from here? Will social media continue to grow, or is there a breaking point? How has it changed us on an emotional and psychological level? These are a few of the things that I will discuss in this opinion-based and scholarly article.

For some, and certainly for me, social media lead to an unhealthy obsession with getting clicks, likes, follows, etc.

For some, and certainly for me, social media lead to an unhealthy obsession with getting clicks, likes, follows, etc.

Is Social Media Rising or Falling?

This seems to be an endless argument. Will it stay or will it go? At the moment, it seems that it is here to stay. While there are momentary rises and drops on every social media platform, one can look around and see that social media is a fairly constant force in this world. All you have to do is watch a YouTube video and hear the person say, "Like, subscribe, share, click that little bell, follow on Instagram and Facebook" to know that it is here to stay. At least for now.

According to Zephoria.com

Worldwide, there are over 2.23 billion monthly active users (MAU) as of December 31, 2018. This is a 9 percent increase in Facebook MAUs year over year. This is compared to 2.27 billion MAUs for Q3 2018.

Let's look at it this way: There are 7.53 billion people on this Earth, and 2.27 billion of us are on Facebook. Instagram has one billion monthly users, and is now the fastest growing social network (SearchEngineJournal, 2018). While Facebook currently has the most users, Instagram is not far behind. Could this be due to our own needs to be noticed? With Facebook, you can communicate with others through posts and blogs. On Instagram, you can communicate; but it is primarily by commenting and liking another user's photographs. Are we moving away from communication and toward a reward-based system of likes and follows?

It's obvious that social media is on the rise, and does not seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. So what makes us flock to it? Why do we enjoy interacting with others through a system of likes and shares, and how does this affect us on an emotional level?

Pros and Cons of Social Media

PositivesNegatives

Connect people

Anxiety

Access to information

Depression (Increased suicide risk)

Greater community involvement

Self-esteem issues

Inspire and create

Eating disorders

Self-growth

Sleep Problems

Emotional Effects Social Media

In order to be unbiased, it is important to note the positive and negative effects of social media in order for the reader to have all the necessary information. So, although I am not a fan, I am going to give you the pros and cons of social media—and how they affect users.

Negatives

Social Acceptance

One of the main reasons a social media user may experience emotional distress—including anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, sleep problems, eating disorders, and suicidal ideation—is due to cyber-bullying.

Bullying and cyberbullying can have long term effects on the victim, and can lead to mental health issues. (Ortega, R., et al., 2012)

However, there can be other less-obvious reasons.

  • Not getting enough likes
  • Arguing with others
  • Not getting enough necessary social contact and depending solely on social media to get said contact
  • Experiencing loneliness.

While this is mostly viewed from an observational standpoint, the effects of social media are real and can cause harm to the individual. (Mammoser, G., 2018)

Social media is a place to share your thoughts and creations and to express yourself. In some instances, if a person doesn't get the attention they are trying to get through social media, this can lead to feelings of self-doubt and a myriad of psychological problems.

But getting attention is not always ideal, especially when it is negative attention. Say you share a photo of yourself looking beautiful. Sure, there will be a lot of compliments and other positive comments. But there may also be negative comments, be it from a jealous user or an internet "troll." Because the internet can, in a sense, shield users, some people feel empowered to say things they may not have said if they were in the same room as you. They may say awful things about you, and it's easy to take this to heart.

We sometimes allow others to dictate how we feel about ourselves, and we shouldn't. I get it. I allowed someone to make me feel awful things about myself for the majority of my life. Sometimes, we have to break away, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Loss of Face-to-Face Communication

Today, it seems that people would rather text or private message instead of talking on the phone or in person. This can cause us to lose contact with important people in our lives. For instance, I tell people that I am not going to be on Facebook a lot, if you need me...call me (at the time of writing, I'm leaving Facebook). What do they do? Comment on the post or private message me. Instead of having human to human contact, some prefer having a digital connection that may or may not work for others. I'd rather talk on the phone, or better yet, get out there and spend actual face-time with the people I love.

Positives

Connects People From Different Parts of the World

What social media takes away from real face-to-face communication, it adds to building connections between people from around the world. People who would otherwise have no way of reaching each other can now collaborate, share ideas, and build relationships through social media. For some, this is wonderful. Some people prefer to use digital communication, and social media is great for them.

Sharing of Information

It is also a great platform for like-minded communities to get together. Whatever your sex, religion, hobby, or ideology—you can find active communities to share ideas and information with. Oftentimes, these groups can also help you with struggles in your life and help you grow as a person. This is a wonderful thing.

Greater Community Involvement

Social media also allows us to be social activists without leaving even leaving our homes. It allows us to support others, learn important information about various causes, and stay updated on what's going on in our local communities and in the world. Compared to door-to-door petitions and rallies, information can be spread instantly to thousands and millions through social media. We have the ability to fight for those that do not have a voice, by giving them a digital and active voice.

Sharing Creativity

Among its many uses, social media is also a place for people to display their creations, whether it's art, photography, music, writing. We are moved by the feelings and emotions that the artist uses to convey their moment in the art, which can inspire us to do the same. This is a beautiful thing.

All of the positives discussed above can help us grow as individuals. By talking and creating with others, we get to know and accept ourselves and others.

Psychological Effects of Social Media

For some, it can be easy to see the psychological effects of social media, but when you are the one experiencing the effects, it can be difficult to understand what is occurring.

Addiction

One of the most problematic effects is addiction to social media. This may sound silly at first; addiction usually makes you think alcohol or drugs, but it can happen with anything. Addiction doesn't stop with alcohol, drugs, sex, and gambling. It permeates into all aspects of life.

The dictionary definition of addiction is:

"the quality or state of being addicted" which is, "having a compulsive physiological need for a habit forming substance": and "strongly inclined or compelled to do, use, or indulge in something repeatedly"

Do you constantly need to check in and see how many likes, comments, shares, and followers your posts have gotten. Do you find yourself on your phone or tablet scrolling through social media for several hours a day? If so, there is a chance that you are addicted to social media. Basically, if you neglect your personal life and have a mental preoccupation with social media, you could be suffering from social media addiction (Forbes, 2017).

It's easy to get addicted. When you get a like, share, follow, or new subscriber, it can give you a boost of happiness in a similar way to other pleasures. You start to become addicted to that feeling. You feel like you are on top of the world; like nothing can stop you. Personally, I feel high with mania, and to be honest, I love it.

Loneliness and Depression

The danger comes when you don't get enough likes or shares, which can sometimes lead to feelings of loneliness and depression. When the amount of attention you are getting isn't enough anymore, or when it starts to decrease, it can lead to feelings of self-doubt and loneliness, which in turn can lead to feelings of depression. These feelings can take you down a dark path if you aren't careful.

Comparing Yourself to Others

Being jealous of others and comparing ourselves to them are both unavoidable. We have all done it. I know I have. With social media, it is so much easier to get caught up in other people's lives, and it's hard to resist the urge to compare your life to theirs. If you like how someone else looks, and you notice that they have more followers, likes, and shares than you, it is easy to become jealous and compare yourself to that person. Let's face it, everyone wants to feel special.

This is normal human behavior. Sadly, social media seems to amplify these feelings and cause them to effect us in a negative manner. Let's say that you post a picture of yourself on Instagram. You feel beautiful, and you want a little attention. You post the picture, and soon, the clicks and comments start. After a while, people lose attention and start clicking and commenting on another person's photo. How do you feel? If you process it, and move on, that's wonderful. It's when you start to beat yourself up and compare yourself to that person in a negative way (e.g., if I had a nose like her, if my chin looked like his, if I had her breasts) that it starts to negatively impact your mental health.

I should note that a person's looks aren't always the reason for comparison and jealousy. It can be something someone said or a something you see in a video.

We are human, and we are fragile. We have emotions that cause us to feel wonderful and emotions that cause us to feel sadness and agony. This is normal. We are suppose to feel these emotions, but it's important to know that dwelling in these emotions is a bad thing. Don't let anyone or anything dictate the way you feel about yourself.

If you are feeling depression, pain of any kind, or suicidal for any reason please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ to get help. You are not alone. If you think you might be addicted to social media (or anything else), please contact the National SAMHSA Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357), or visit samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline. There is help out there, just reach out.

If you want someone to talk to, the people at 7 Cups of Tea are always ready to listen.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2019 Michelle Battle

Comments

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on February 17, 2019:

Exhaustive and interesting. Nice reading. Thanks.

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