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Social Media and Our Mental Health: Are We Sacrificing Our Health Along with Our Time?

Sad woman looking at social mediaThe number of Americans who utilize social media platforms is staggering. According to the latest data from the Pew Research Center, 73 percent of U.S. adults use YouTube, 68 percent use Facebook, 35 percent use Instagram, 29 percent use Pinterest, 27 percent use Snapchat, 25 percent use LinkedIn, 24 percent use Twitter, and 22 percent use WhatsApp. Not surprisingly, these numbers are even higher among younger adults. The Pew Research Center reports that 78 percent of Americans ages 18 to 24 use Snapchat, 71 percent use Instagram, and 45 percent use Twitter.

What is even more staggering, is that data shows that teens are spending up to nine hours per day on social platforms. With social media infiltrating every aspect of our lives and our society, it has left experts asking, is this level of social media use good for us? Is it bad for us? What effect does so much time spent in the social sphere have on our beliefs, our sense of self, and our mental health? A recent report published by the BBC had the answer, and it will surprise you.

Social Streams May be Amplifying Stress Levels

With social media serving as a public platform for individuals to share their highest highs and their lowest lows, data shows that much of people’s social feeds, particularly on Facebook and Twitter, are filled with negative comments, serving as a source of stress for their followers. A 2015 research study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that social media was inducing more stress than it was relieving, particularly for women, and particularly for Twitter users.

Social Media Can Lower Moods

A 2014 research study conducted in Austria found that individuals who utilized Facebook for 20 minutes reported lower moods compared to those who browsed the Internet. The study further indicated that the decreased moods were caused by a sense of feeling like the social media use was a waste of time.

Increased Social Media Use Can Increase Feelings of Anxiety

A study published in the Journal Computers and Human Behaviour found that people who report using seven or more social media platforms were more than three times as likely as people using up to two platforms to have high levels of general anxiety symptoms, such as restlessness, worry, difficulty sleeping, and difficulty concentrating.

Quality Social Interactions May Impact Feelings of Depression

In recent studies, individuals reported high levels of symptoms of depression, such as feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, when they experienced more negative social media interactions. A separate study found a link between more severe feelings of anxiety among those who utilize a higher number of social media platforms. Such increases may be caused by a higher risk of cyber-bullying, experiencing a distorted sense of other peoples’ lives, and feeling like time spent on social media is wasteful.

The Potential for Positive Outcomes

While there are valid concerns that social media use could have a negative impact on our mental health, researchers have found potential positive implications as well. Scientists believe there may be opportunities to utilize social media to diagnose depression to help get individuals the support and professional treatment they need earlier. In a world where so many people are connected via social platforms, sharing information, photos, feelings, and opinions, any opportunity to use such interactions to help individuals get the support and health treatment they need should be leveraged. Using the power of social connectivity, we may be better able to ensure that even in a social sphere of millions of people, that no one feels alone.