How Social Media Is Fueling A Mental Health CrisisAug 09, 2020
According to Statista, 79% of people now have at least one social media account. From Twitter to Facebook, Instagram to Snapchat – the way we connect with each other has vastly changed even from a few years ago.
While there are many benefits to social media (such as keeping in touch with loved ones abroad), there’s also plenty of downsides. This mainly revolves around what it’s doing to our mental health, sometimes without us even realising it.
In fact, most of us don’t immerse ourselves in the moment anymore, because we are too busy trying to snap a picture for our social media! Here are my thoughts as a therapist on how social media is fueling a mental health crisis.
Not Everything We See Is Real
Ever scroll through someone’s feed and see a seamless array of amazing pictures? Whether it’s an unobtainable luxury lifestyle, ‘perfect’ makeup looks, a gym-honed body type or impeccably behaved children. It’s so easy to think to yourself, “I wish that was my life”. Such thoughts especially affect impressionable young people, 91% of whom use Instagram in the UK. Being constantly exposed to a false truth isn’t doing anyone’s mental health any favours, especially when it’s so easy to compare yourself to others because of it.
In reality, many social media feeds are cleverly orchestrated. Not only do they use professional lighting and photography, but filters and sometimes photoshop and other editing apps too. Whatsmore, often we are all guilty of only posting our highlights. For example, happy occasions, celebrations or other ‘wins’ we have had in our life. It’s just not plausible that every second of our lives is that good. Yet, that is all we see when we scroll through someone’s feed. It can easily trick us into thinking we aren’t good enough.
Social Media Is Addictive
The average Brit checks their phone 28 times a day which adds up to over 10,000 times a year. With constant pings and notifications, it’s perhaps little surprise. However, what you might not realise is the scrolling pattern built into many social media apps is actually hard-wiring our brains to want more and more content. That’s because you don’t come to the end, it just keeps going. Before you realise it, you have spent minutes if not hours browsing content. All from an ‘innocent’ check of your phone!
Most of us also check social media as soon as we wake up in the morning, and even if we wake up during the middle of the night. The scary thing is, most people don’t realise how addicted they are. This is especially the case for young people when being online is something they have grown up with. To them (and many adults who have become addicted too) spending hours on social media posting or scrolling through content is completely normal.
Likes Are Not A Measure For Self Esteem
Sadly, many people use social media as a way of measuring their self esteem. Likes have become the new way of validating oneself through the number of likes or follows you get. Even though many social media platforms run on algorithms, meaning your content isn’t actually shown to all your followers anyway. For those who already lack self esteem or confidence, it can feel devastating not to get ‘high’ numbers of likes or follows. In addition, trolling has become a real issue and has sadly led to many suicides in recent years. Yet, social media companies continue to wash their hands of the issue.
It is clear that social media and mental health aren’t always a great mix. Given accounts can be set up by anyone (even anonymously) and post anything to anyone, those who lack self esteem could be adversely affected. Another example of this is when someone unfollows or blocks you. It can seem quite harsh and leave you questioning what you did wrong. If you spent too much time thinking about the issue, this could also affect your self esteem. For young teens, in particular, it’s causing huge confidence issues and a warped sense of self-worth.
It Can Leave Us Feeling Depressed
There’s no doubt that social media is filled with a lot of uplifting content. But it can also leave us feeling pretty depressed too. Aside from comparing yourself to others, you can also come across unhelpful or distressing content in your feed. Whatsmore, there’s also a trend that’s been dubbed as ‘orbiting’. That’s when a couple breaks up but one of them continues to watch and like all of their ex-partner’s social media content, preventing them from moving on. Being stuck in the past ultimately leads to depression, and for some people, it can spiral into other mental health problems too.
Timehop is probably the worst for this. While it can throw up some good (and funny!) memories, it can also show you ‘how great’ life was before, aka not now. When in reality, none of us can go back in time whether it was a happy place or not. All we have is the present moment. A key point to remember is that social media isn’t a replacement for real conversations, whether that be in person or over the phone. Humans need interaction, not to mention exercise and fresh air which, if you are glued to social media is unlikely to be happening. A lack of which could also contribute to depression, not least because you are spending too much time looking back at the past!
Social media is great in so many ways, but remember it’s also just a highlight reel. It usually only shows our best parts and even then, there’s still the chance what you are seeing is heavily filtered. If the use of social media has affected your mental health, you are not alone. It’s always a good idea to have regular breaks from social media. You can even try a digital detox which is great for refreshing the mind. Remember, only post content you are truly comfortable sharing online (someone once suggested to only post what your grandmother would approve of, which is good advice!)
If you would like any further help in addressing issues such as confidence, self esteem or anxiety then you may be interested in signing up for a virtual life coach session. I am currently running sessions over Zoom or Skype, and these are available to clients located in the UK as well as internationally. Please get in touch to find out more.