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Social Media and Mental Health: What You Need to Know

By Nitya D on January 7, 2024

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Everyone knows of at least one social media platform, whether it may be Youtube, Instagram, TikTok, or Snapchat. These social media platforms and many others have revolutionized our way of communicating, sharing information, and connecting with others. Can something that connects us so easily harm us deeply?

The simple answer to it is yes!

With social media, you might have felt pressured, anxious, or isolated, but you may have also been happy, excited, and empowered. These feelings are not easy to forget and could stay with you for a long time. You’ve probably experienced at least one of these feelings at one point: a post captivated you in a good or bad way, and because of it you might have changed your point of view on something. But why should we want to learn about the link between our mental health and social media?

First of all, what is social media and mental health? Social media is a means of communication and has become an integral part of modern society. It has the power to amplify voices, disseminate news rapidly, and foster global conversations on a wide range of topics. However, social media also poses challenges such as privacy concerns, the spread of misinformation, and potential negative effects on mental health with excessive use or cyberbullying. Mental health refers to our overall emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It encompasses the way we think, feel, and act, as well as how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is an essential component of overall health and affects every aspect of our lives, including our thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and relationships.

Now, let’s get into why learning about potential mental health issues caused by social media is important! To do this I’ll give some experiences that some individuals have gone through, you might even relate to some of them! By giving some examples of what people go through because of social media shows how it can drastically affect a person’s life.

The Perfect Illusion

One of the ways social media can affect mental health is by perpetuating this idea of the "perfect illusion." Platforms like Instagram often showcase idealized and carefully curated versions of people's lives, which can lead to social comparison and feelings of inadequacy (Chou and Edge, 2012). For instance, perfectly filtered vacation photos or glamorous lifestyle shots can be examples of “perfect illusions.” These curated depictions can create a distorted perception of reality, setting unrealistic standards for beauty, success, and happiness. Research conducted by Chou and Edge (2012) found a strong link between social media use and depressive symptoms, emphasizing the negative impact of constantly comparing oneself to others. To counteract this, it's essential to reflect on the social media content you’re exposed to and think about how you can cultivate a positive self-image that isn't solely based on external comparisons.

Fear of Missing Out (FoMO)

“Fear of missing out” is a prevalent psychological phenomenon exacerbated by social media. Constant exposure to exciting events, vacations, or social gatherings can create a sense of exclusion and anxiety. It's natural to feel like you're missing out on amazing experiences when you see other people post about them. Research conducted by Przybylski et al. (2013) has shown that higher levels of FoMO are associated with lower overall life satisfaction and compromised mental well-being. To counter the effects of FoMO, it's crucial to be aware of your own susceptibility to it and practice healthy social media habits. Setting boundaries, focusing on personal values and experiences, and maintaining a realistic perspective on the curated nature of social media content can help you mitigate the negative effects.

Cyberbullying and Online Harassment

Social media platforms have unfortunately become breeding grounds for cyberbullying and online harassment, which can have severe consequences for mental well-being. Numerous studies, including the research by Kowalski et al. (2014), have consistently shown that individuals who experience cyberbullying are at a much higher risk of developing psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, and even suicidal ideation. The 24/7 nature of social media platforms can make it difficult for individuals to escape the effects. Addressing cyberbullying and online harassment requires a collaborative effort between platform providers, law enforcement agencies, educators, parents, and individuals themselves. We need to promote responsible online behavior, foster empathy and digital citizenship, and implement effective reporting and intervention mechanisms on social media platforms. Creating safer and healthier online spaces is essential for protecting mental well-being.

Distorted Body Image and Eating Disorders

Social media platforms tend to promote unrealistic beauty standards, which can lead to body image dissatisfaction and an increased risk of developing eating disorders. Regular exposure to idealized body images can contribute to lower self-esteem, increased body surveillance, and a higher likelihood of engaging in unhealthy behaviors. Research conducted by Perloff (2014), has demonstrated a significant association between social media use and body dissatisfaction among both men and women. Raising awareness about the impact of social media on body image, advocating for responsible media representation, and supporting evidence-based prevention and intervention programs are essential steps toward mitigating the influence of social media on body dissatisfaction and eating disorders. By fostering a positive body image and promoting critical consumption of media content, we can counteract the harmful effects of unrealistic beauty standards perpetuated by social media platforms.

Increased Risk of Anxiety and Depression

All the issues I’ve listed so far are linked to social media and all of these issues can potentially lead to anxiety and depression. Research suggests a connection between excessive social media use and higher rates of anxiety and depression. A study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology (Hunt et al., 2018) revealed that limiting social media usage to 30 minutes per day resulted in significant reductions in both depression and loneliness. This indicates that excessive consumption of social media content can have detrimental effects on mental health. To protect our mental well-being, it is crucial to establish healthy boundaries and habits around social media use. Setting time limits, engaging in offline activities, and practicing self-care are important steps in maintaining a healthy relationship with social media. Additionally, developing resilience to social comparisons, cultivating in-person relationships, and seeking support from friends, family, or mental health professionals are valuable strategies in managing anxiety and depression associated with excessive social media use.

So What Can We Do?

Social media has undeniably transformed the way we communicate and connect with others. However, it is important to be aware of the potential impacts it can have on our mental health. The "perfect illusion," fear of missing out, cyberbullying, distorted body image, and increased risk of anxiety and depression are some of the challenges we may face in the digital age. By understanding these issues and implementing strategies to navigate them, we can harness the benefits of social media while protecting our mental well-being.

Remember, not all social media use has negative effects on mental health, and individuals may have different reactions and experiences based on various factors. It's essential to prioritize self-care, be mindful of our social media consumption, and seek support when needed. Together, let's foster a healthier relationship with social media and prioritize our mental well-being in this digital era!

Thank you Sharon V for editing this article!

  • Chou, H. T. G., & Edge, N. (2012). "They are Happier and Having Better Lives than I Am": The Impact of Using Facebook on Perceptions of Others' Lives. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 15(2), 117-121.
  • Hunt, M. G., Marx, R., Lipson, C., & Young, J. (2018). No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 37(10), 751-768.
  • Kowalski, R. M., Giumetti, G. W., Schroeder, A. N., & Lattanner, M. R. (2014). Bullying in the digital age: A critical review and meta-analysis of cyberbullying research among youth. Psychological Bulletin, 140(4), 1073-1137.
  • Perloff, R. M. (2014). Social media effects on young women’s body image concerns: Theoretical perspectives and an agenda for research. Sex Roles, 71(11-12), 363-377.
  • Przybylski, A. K., Murayama, K., DeHaan, C. R., & Gladwell, V. (2013). Motivational, emotional, and behavioral correlates of fear of missing out. Computers in Human Behavior, 29(4), 1841-1848. peer tutoring, for free.


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