The “millennial” generation was the first that has progressed through adolescence with the use of social media. We are now starting to see the influence of social media on the mental health of young people. Many of us are constantly updating, uploading, snapping and scrolling, but how does it actually affect our mental health and how we view ourselves? This is a multifaceted issue; where suicides and depression has been attributed to social media bullying, pro-suicide chat rooms, suicide pacts, extreme communities and targeted harassment. As these are important issues associating social media sites, mental health and suicide, they are not the common experience of people using social media. It is much more difficult to measure the effects of how being bombarded every day, day after day, of images of other peoples lives, makes us feel about our own.
Prolonged exposure to social media, especially during young adulthood, is being thought to create stress and uncertainty, especially when adolescence are still trying to figure out their own identities. In a study done by Ottawa Public Health Department of Epidemiology, they found that middle and high school students who spent more then two hours on social media a day felt as though they needed mental health support, had self reported poor metal health and had experienced psychological distress or suicidal thoughts, more than their peers who said they spent less than 2 hours, or no time at all on social media a day. The study does not go into the reasons why this association occurs, but they do warn parents to take notice of their children’s social media usage, as it can be an indicator for depression and other mental health issues.
The Huffington post calls it “Compare and Despair”, the feeling of inadequacy when you compare your life to others. According to them, mental health therapists are identifying this aspect of social media to be especially damaging to those who already suffer from anxiety and depression. They claim that even though we may know that posts are more often exaggerating or misleading about someone’s life, they still can fuel self-esteem loss. This also works in the reverse way. So many people often get caught up in curating their social media lives, constructing an identity around them, to impress, attract and deceive others. This has lead to a strong connection reported by psychiatrists between patients who take a lot of selfies and who suffer from Body Dimorphic Disorder, a mental disorder that one becomes obsessive over an aspect of one’s appearance, that one will go to exceptional measures to hide or fix the identified “flaw”.
Dr. Julia Cottle complicates this issue in the article Facebook and Mental Health: is Social Media Hurting or Helping? For Mental Help.net . Here she discusses the benefits of Facebook and social media on mental health. It is proven that added social interaction decreases anxiety and depression, and that with this increase in access and frequency of communication due to social media, there will be a decrease in anxiety and depression. She also argues that social media helps people with social anxiety. It provides a place where they can interact with people without the stress of having to meet face to face. Facebook is also a place where people can reach out for support. There are support groups, with experts who can participate, no matter their location.
The focus on perception on social media is undoubtedly having effects on the mental health of young people. With the social norm of constantly presenting yourself online, a lot of time and energy is spent on thinking about how you look, how others see you, and how you present yourself. In this, a lot can be lost and damaged, but in turn, a lot can be gained through increased access and interaction. It is unclear the best way to deal with these issues, as they are new issues we are just starting to learn the effects of. The first thing to do is to start with education and awareness, and fostering a larger conversation to exist, both on and offline.
As a member of the “millennial generation” I can see the changes in the way my peers and I use social media. I am an avid social media user, but would fit under the category of a “watcher”, someone who scrolls and observers more than participates and posts. My freshman year of college, I saw friends posting fun pictures from their freshman year at other universities. When we went home for winter break, one of my friends confided in me about how unhappy she was, and how she wanted to leave school. This surprised me; her social media had been filled with pictures from fun events, sorority recruitment and days at the beach. She said she felt the need to post so much to make up for the fact that she was unhappy, she wanted to create the image of the experience she wished she was having. Ever since then I have been more aware of the “façade of Facebook”. I believe we need to get away from the mentality of judging ourselves by the number of “likes” we get, and the number of “followers” we have. We need to make social media about communicating, connecting, educating and raising awareness and create a conversation about all of the negative effects that social media can have.
Gregorian, Carolyn “Heavy Social Media Use Liked with Mental Health Issues in Teens “ The Huffington Post 7/28/2015
Julia Cottle PH.D “Facebook and Mental Health: is Social Media Hurting or Helping? “Mentalhelp.net 3/15/2016
Sampasa-Kanyinga Hugues and Lewis Rosamund F
Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking July 2015, 18(7): 380-385. doi:10.1089/cyber.2015.0055.
Author : Eliza Daeschler The University of Vermont
Advisor: Rob Williams, Ph.D., University of Vermont Professor of Media/Communication.
Eliza Daeschler is a senior at the University of Vermont, Majoring in Environmental studies, minoring in Public Communications and Sustainable Landscape Horticulture, she is passionate about melding her love for nature and the people around her.