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Social media and mental health: What's the impact?

11 Jan 2022
5 min read

With the rising popularity of TikTok and YouTube, an increasing number of teens use social media. The number of teens that say they’re online has almost doubled from 24% in 2015 to 46% in 2022. With 95% of teens reportedly using YouTube, and 67% using TikTok.

The negative impacts of social media

Research shows social media increases the risk of depression, anxiety disorders and loneliness. Here’s how:

Social media increases envy, jealousy and comparison to others

How many times have you scrolled social media and saw something that made you feel bad about your life? Maybe you felt unwell, in your pyjamas, and stumbled across an airbrushed photo of your friend on holiday. Or while struggling to balance being a parent and working, you see others who you think are doing it better. It doesn’t matter if we know others are only sharing their highlights. Seeing it can still make us insecure about the less than perfect areas of our own lives.

Social media increases loneliness

Social media has increased the disconnection many feel from their friends and family. As a result, when we’re bored, most of us open up social media to see what those friends are doing. Due to the ease of seeing others' lives, it reduces the need for us to go out and build in-person relationships. We already feel somewhat connected through scrolling. But at the same time, it increases the fear of missing out on meaningful events.

Social media increases FOMO; fear of missing out

Comparing ourselves to others on social media has increased the fear that we’re missing out. When we scroll, we often see events and things that are happening elsewhere. Seeing others doing something fun can cause us to feel dissatisfied with our own lives. Especially because we aren’t currently experiencing the same.

Social media increases the risk of cyberbullying

Social media can be a breeding ground for hurtful comments around appearance and behaviour. According to Pew Research Centre 59% of teenagers and 33% of adults have experienced cyberbullying.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. During the pandemic, many of us realised the positive impact social media can have. We could stay in touch with those we couldn’t see in-person, even if we wanted to. And although some aspects and overuse can be toxic, there is still value to the platform.

Limiting social media activity to 30 minutes per day can improve your wellbeing.

Tips to manage the negative impacts of social media on your mental health

  1. Be mindful of how much you are using social media

Watch your screen time and the different social media apps you use. Notice how you feel during your usage time. Do you feel positive about yourself and your life? If you feel negative emotions, consider reducing your usage time. Swap your scrolling habits for activities that make you feel good about yourself.

2. Unfollow accounts that make you feel unworthy

How does it make you feel when you see content from different feeds? Does it inspire you and motivate you to focus on your life? Or does it instead make you envious or lacking in self-esteem? Consider how different accounts make you feel. Then, take a social media detox to unfollow accounts that don’t add value to your life.

3. Check in with yourself

Are you using social media to replace another activity, like walking or reading? Are you using social media to check on others, and confirm negative feelings of self-worth? Ask yourself these questions to understand your social media usage. Determine whether you have a healthy relationship with it.

4. Seek out welcoming communities

Dating apps can be great for forging relationships. But they can also lead to feelings of rejection. Instagram can be a great way to express yourself through images. But excessive filtering can damage your self-esteem. Twitter can be a great way to debate and share opinions. But it's also swamped with trolling and negative comments. Understand that social media has both good and bad elements. Decide which platform most aligns with your views. Then, make sure to always seek out welcoming communities that focus on the good.

5. Support your mental health in healthy ways

Do you notice your social media usage increasing when feeling depression, anxiety and boredom? If so, you could be using it to mask other emotions. It may distract you from addressing the underlying causes of poor mental health in your life. Consider other ways you could reduce anxiety rather than scrolling. Also, consider opening up to a mental health practitioner that can help with alternative ways to manage stress.

What to do if your child uses too much social media

If you’re a parent of a young person and you’re worried about their internet usage, here are some things you can do:

  1. Check in with your child.

You don’t have to ask one million questions or appear invasive of privacy. But bring the topic of social media up with your child. Encourage them to share what content they’ve seen or read, and how it has made them feel. Remind them of the positive ways they can use social media to learn, have fun and connect with friends.

2. Ask your child which apps they use and why.

Technology advances so fast that it can sometimes feel hard to keep up. But don’t let your lack of knowledge keep you from attempting to stay up to date with your child. Ask them to show you the apps they use or the videos they are watching on YouTube or TikTok. Encourage them to share what they find interesting about certain videos. This way, you can better understand their online behaviours.

3. Set boundaries for online use.

A lot of these boundaries will depend on your child’s age. But after exploring what apps they like to use and what for, don’t be afraid to communicate if there is a concern for you. Sit down with your child and agree on the expected times and apps to use. For older children, empower them to feel in control of their schedule. Ask how they feel as a result of using social media, instead of making rules. Maybe they agree that using devices before bed makes them feel sluggish in the morning. Or perhaps they noticed their homework slipping due to their online usage. Encourage them to set realistic times to meet their own needs.

4. Share your experiences with your child.

Be honest about your own experiences with social media. Tell your child if certain content, filtered images or FOMO made you feel a certain way. Sharing your experience will encourage your child to feel normal expressing their own. It will also help them realise the impact social media can have, and encourage them to notice if the same feelings happen for them

5. Educate your child on cyberbullying.

Share all the ways in which your child may experience cyberbullying. Make them aware that bullying in any form is not ok, whether they receive nasty comments or are on the giving end of them. Encourage them to be mindful about what they post, and teach them the effects this could have on others. Remind them that they can always talk to you if they have concerns about something online. Teach them how to block and report users that harass them online or make negative comments. And show them the privacy settings online to ensure they feel secure.

6. Stay aware of warning signs.

If you suspect something is wrong with your child’s behaviour as a result of online usage, talk to them. Provide a safe space for them to share their experiences with you and refrain from judging. Listen to your child and remind them you are there to help resolve the issues together. If your child doesn’t open up to you right away, do not force them to. Gently encourage more offline activities such as mindfulness, walking, or visiting family and friends.

Social Media Kindness

November 9th is Social Media Kindness Day. The day aims to raise awareness on how to be kinder to others online.

Here are 8 small ways to take part, spread kindness and create a positive space for users:

  1. Share an inspiring photo, quote or article. Post it to your social feed to brighten someone else’s day when they scroll by.
  2. Leave a compliment on someone’s post to make them smile.
  3. Share small business love. Share your experience of using the business’ products or services with your followers. Or leave them a kind review.
  4. Start a positive comment chain. Reply to the previous comment on a post you like, by tagging the person and sharing a compliment. Encourage them to continue it by tagging the person above them, and so on.
  5. Express gratitude for someone you care about. Post a photo and caption telling the world why you want to highlight this person.
  6. Reconnect with someone you haven’t spoken to in a while.
  7. Send a message to your favourite blogger. Express how much you appreciate their content.
  8. Donate to a charity through their online fundraising button.