Social Media and its Effects on Mental Health

Social media is everywhere—has been for a long time now. The whole world now can be viewed through the lens of social media. Between every business asking you to Like or Follow them, to every TV show, band, and film encouraging you to Tweet, post, and share their content, or even just the commonplace inundation of the thoughts and feelings of our friends and family, everything has become intertwined with social media in such a way that it’s now nearly impossible to imagine a world without its omnipresence and influence.

But, what does this mean for each of us, for the individuals that comprise the whole? Is there a downside to the quick and easy connection we now all share with each other? Is there an upside? And what do we do to ourselves when we covet and cherish these interactions as much as we do in-person ones, or even more than in-person ones?

Self-Esteem

It has become second-nature to routinely and frequently compare ourselves to those we interact with on social media, same as we would with an in-person interaction. We examine ourselves against the mirror of their clothes, their hair, their attitude and words and actions, and assign some amount of self-worth in how we compare to these other people. According to clinical psychologist Jill Emanuele, PhD, “If kids are struggling to stay on top of things or suffering from low self-esteem, they’re more likely to interpret images of peers having fun as confirmation that they’re doing badly compared to their friends. However, social media allows us to heavily curate the way we appear to the outside world, to sand down our rough edges and cull our mistakes entirely. What this does is turn that mirror into an impossible standard that no real life could ever live up to. What starts as an impulse to look good in public turns into a toxic spiral of comparison against an impossible ideal that can, and does, destroy peoples’ sense of self-esteem, -worth, and -confidence through the fiction that social media allows us to present to the public, instead of the reality that is always front and center during an in-person interaction.

Interpersonal Connection

Simply put, the distance that social media puts between people can often be so great that it actually changes the way we interact with each other when we are in-person. People are often glued to their glowing windows to the world, which can lead to neglect of flesh-and-blood relationships and can lower the quality of those interactions by giving each and every person a very easy way to distract and remove themselves from the interaction altogether.

Stina Sanders, a former model with upwards of 100,000 Instagram followers, explains how social media will make her feel left out and isolated, “I know from my experience I can get FOMO when I see my friend’s photos of a party I didn’t go to, and this, in turn, can make me feel quite lonely and anxious.” And a recent study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that regular use of Facebook actually does have a negative impact on individuals’ social health and well-being, and supports our assumptions on what being online all day does to us.

Ultimately, mental health requires a good balance and variety of interaction and connection—a way to connect with the wider world without ignoring the world right in front of us, let alone the problems that have shown to manifest when people become too involved in their social media lives. Thankfully, they are treatable and manageable problems, even if they do represent a growing point of friction in peoples’ lives and a growing point of contact for people seeking psychological help.

And, if you are interested in helping others face their problems, Alliant International University offers two doctorate programs in Clinical Psychology (PsyD and PhD) that will provide the tools you need to be a rock of support for your patients. For more information, contact Alliant today.