What’s the Connection Between Social Media and Poor Mental Health?

Sophie Bishop
December 9, 2021

Social media is a huge part of our lives now – we’re constantly connected and what we see online has the power to inspire, communicate and entertain us. Over time, however, as we spend increasing amounts of time on social media, the build-up of the things we see on our devices can have a negative impact on our mental wellbeing. 

Here are a few ways that social media is linked with poor mental health, from how we view ourselves and our self-image to the feeling that we’re always missing out.

How pervasive is social media?

Over 70% of people use some form of social media, and many of these users check their social accounts at least once per day, often far more. Young people utilize social media as a method of connecting and sharing information, with 45% of teens claiming that they use social media on a near-constant basis. 

What are the effects of using social media?

When we scroll social media accounts, we inevitably find ourselves faced with people from different political and world views than our own, as well as people with different financial circumstances or privileges that we may not have ourselves. This not only leads to comparisons but also conflicts, which over time can cause a dip in your mental health

There have been many studies in recent years that show the impact of seeing a curated version of other peoples’ lives and how this affects our self-esteem and perceptions of our own lives. 

It can be easy to correlate the likes we receive online as an indication of how much we’re liked as a person in real life, but this isn’t the case. Social media can be used in some cases as a way of compensating for perceived inadequacies in life, which can cause anxiety and depression. 

Social media has a reinforcing effect, in that using it triggers the brain’s reward centers and releases dopamine – a feel-good chemical. In other words, it’s designed to be addictive. Social media also has an unpredictable nature, in that we don’t know what videos or images are going to crop up as we’re scrolling. In the same way that playing a slot machine at a casino triggers excitement and the thrill of not knowing what you’ll get is one of the attractions to using social media, but it also enhances that addictive element of the platforms. 

Online vulnerability

The longer we use social media, the bigger the impact it will have on our mental health. Not only does social media provide another avenue for people to feel excluded, whether it’s from products or events, or simply lifestyle choices that are unattainable to them, it also puts a distorted lens on reality due to filters and photo editing that can blur the lines between what’s real and what’s fiction. 

To the user, the people they see on these channels can appear perfect, which leads to an unattainable comparison, and this can hinder our mental health considerably. This is evident from the uplift in plastic surgery over recent years, as more of us try to attain the levels of perfection we see online. So, it’s unsurprising that seeing these images every day can lead to depression and anxiety around how our lives look. 

Making Necessary Positive Changes

Social media is such an integral part of our lives now that quitting altogether is unrealistic for most of us. But if you’ve noticed that it’s triggering negative emotions and impacting your mental health, spotting the signs and making necessary changes is the way to combat the effects of what you’re viewing. 

If you’re mindful of when you feel imposter syndrome kicking in or anxiety when you’re online, it could be time to re-evaluate who you’re following online and whether they are a positive impact on your mental wellbeing

There may be certain platforms that make you feel worse. For example, if seeing people you know on Facebook makes you feel worse than the updates from strangers on Instagram or Twitter, then it may be worthwhile ditching the platforms that have a greater effect on you, without needing to give up social media entirely. 

Likewise, limit your screen time, devoting your leisure time to activities that make you feel good about yourself and that nourish your mental health rather than degrade it. While challenging initially, over time, you’ll learn to gravitate towards self-care activities over scrolling through anxiety-inducing images. 

Taking Action Today

You don’t need to give up social media, but it’s important to acknowledge certain connections between how we feel day to day and the amount of screen time we take part in.

To protect your mental health and reap the rewards of being online, it’s worth paying attention to how social media makes you feel and making the right changes to prevent your mental wellbeing from dipping.

Written by

Sophie Bishop

Sophie Bishop is a medical journalist with a MSc of Science specializing in psychology. Sophie’s passion is to raise awareness through her writing around issues to do with healthcare, mental wellbeing, sustainability and is looking to connect with an engaged audience.