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How does social media affect mental health

Social media is part of most people’s lives to some degree. In recent years, the focus has often been on the negative impact social media can have on people’s lives – but we think it’s important to acknowledge the positive and negative effects it can have on mental health, as well as how you can realistically use social media in a mentally healthy way.

Positive effects of social media on mental health

Encourages connections

One of the major selling points for social media platforms is that that they enable you to connect with people anywhere in the world.

For some, this can have a positive effect on mental health by allowing them to interact with friends and loved ones regularly who they cannot see in person – this impact was highlighted particularly during COVID-19 when social media was a key source of connection for isolating families and friends.

This ability to connect with others can also benefit mental health by helping people, especially children and teenagers, to find and engage with those who have similar interests and challenges – giving them a sense of belonging and someone to talk to who may understand them better.

Facilitates mental health support

One of the first steps to getting support in any mental health journey is to talk about it – either with someone you know or with an organisation. Social media makes getting support with any challenging situation, including mental health, much easier as you can instantly connect with others and have conversations in a variety of formats depending on what suits you e.g. voice call, video call or text-based message.

Children and young people, as well as vulnerable or less confident adults, may find accessing mental health support via social media much easier and more achievable than approaching a GP or mental health professional in real life.

Helps to raise awareness and reduce stigma

Social media can be particularly effective at helping to raise awareness of mental health, encouraging open conversations and reducing stigma. With so many people regularly using social media in their daily lives, it’s one of the best ways to get mental health messages seen.

Mental health organisations like Shawmind use social media to raise awareness of mental health issues, share mental health resources for those in need of support and provide a safe space to challenge mental health stigma.

Negative effects of social media on mental health

Cyberbullying

One of the biggest problems with social media, particularly for children and young people, is cyberbullying. 1 in 5 children aged 10-15 have experienced cyberbullying which is a significant cause of mental health problems in children.

Cyberbullying is often considered more harmful than physical bullying at school since it can carry on 24/7, be spread to a wider group of people, and go undetected by parents and teachers unless raised by the bullied student.

Body image views

Another widely publicised criticism of social media is the impact it can have on body image for both adults and young people. Images are often highly edited or show someone only at their best and instil a belief in the user that they also need to achieve the same type of body as the person in the image.

While lots of work is being done in this area to combat this problem, this can still lead to adults and young people feeling as if their body is not good enough ultimately resulting in low self-esteem and, in the worst cases, eating disorders.

FOMO

While the ability to connect with others 24/7 has been beneficial for some, it has also amplified the ‘Fear Of Missing Out’ (FOMO). People (both younger and older) spend hours every day on social media so that they don’t miss out on something that may interest them. This is not the individual’s fault, the social media platforms have been engineered to be addictive and keep people wanting to come back, but this excessive use is bad for both our physical and mental health.

FOMO itself can keep us from being able to rest properly in case we miss something while hours staring at a screen is not good for our eyes or brain. All of these physical effects can worsen our mental health in addition to FOMO making us feel more anxious and isolated.

Triggers

Social media content is not heavily monitored or moderated by any central agency which can make it very easy to come across posts that can trigger those with mental health conditions. Anything from a post glorifying self-harm to a distant relative making discriminatory comments can trigger someone, especially those already in a vulnerable state of mind.

Similarly to cyberbullying, this content is available 24/7 and can feel near-impossible to escape from. Particularly controversial content that receives a lot of engagement may even be shown more prominently to sensitive users as the platform algorithms work to show them the most popular posts.

How can you realistically balance mental health and social media?

Some people avoid social media altogether, but for many, this may not be an option. Here are some simple tips both adults and young people can follow to limit the negative effects of social media without avoiding it completely.

  • Follow positive influencers for your mental health
  • Use social media to check in on friends and loved ones (delete the posts from your old neighbour that only annoys you)
  • Limit the time you spend online
  • Disable notifications so you don’t get them on your phone all the time
  • Only check social media during the day so that it’s not the first or last thing you see

Learn more about social media and mental health with our online course.

Social media is an integral part of children’s and young people’s lives but they will likely face mental health challenges because of it. We’re on a mission to improve mental health support for young people by training teachers to provide early intervention and support, thereby reducing the demand on NHS mental health services like CAMHS.

Find out how you can get involved with Headucation and help us improve mental health for the next generation.

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