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The Impact of Social Media on Mental Health

Introduction

Human beings are inherently social creatures who crave companionship and communication. It seems as though cooperating with others is the only way to make progress in life, according to lifestyle gurus and networking coaches. Being socially connected to others has never been more important, which explains the immense success of social media networking platforms. Despite the associated risks and dangers of this new invention, people use social media daily and rely on it in various aspects of their lives. Since the concept is relatively new, there are a limited number of studies, which would assess the impact of Instagram, Facebook, or any other platform on users’ mental health. Nevertheless, recent research indicates that the unnecessary and excessive use of social media can lead to depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem (Hunt et al. 751; Lyall et al. 507). The evidence paints a clear picture of the threats people might face as a result of social media use.

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The purpose of this speech is to analyze the latest research to identify the main dangers of this new medium of communication. The intended audience is everyone interested in learning more about the impact of social media on mental health and gaining insights into the correlation between depression, self-hate, anxiety, and excessive social media use. However, it targets young people, in particular, since they are some of the most active users who are impressionable and persuadable.

The Popularity of Social Media

Relatively recently, social media platforms have become an indispensable part of many people’s daily lives. Billions spend hours on Instagram and Facebook although just 50 years ago, no one could have predicted the existence of these new communication channels. The number of users is around 3.5 billion as of 2019, according to Karim et al. (1). Furthermore, it is projected to grow by 0.9 billion in only 6 years (Tankovska). The percentage of American adults who use social media platforms has increased by 74% since 2005 (Ortiz-Ospina). The penetration of social media is constantly expanding and intensifying in various regions worldwide. Tankovska notes that the global rate of using social media is at 49%, which is expected to increase significantly due to the economic development of less wealthy regions in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Although the U.S. and Europe remain the most prominent digital powerhouses, Eastern Asia starts to become the most penetrated market.

Feelings of Depression and Anxiety

The most serious concern related to the use of social networking sites and their impact on mental health is depression and anxiety. While one might feel anxious because of daily problems or situations out of their comfort zone, clinical depression is an actual mood disorder. Depressive episodes often imply prolonged feelings of sadness and suicidal thoughts. Studies reveal a clear correlation between the disorder and social media use. The researchers often go a bit further and suggest that platforms such as Instagram and Facebook may cause depression, to begin with (Hunt et al. 751). For instance, The Lancet Psychiatry published a study linking the feelings of unhappiness and disappointment with late-night Facebook surfing (Lyall et al. 507). Melissa G. Hunt and her colleagues concluded that people generally feel happier and less lonely if they spend less time on social media networking sites (751). This suggests that there is a causal link between social media and mental health. By presenting the evidence of this experimental study, the researchers demonstrated the association between emotional well-being and the use of platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.

It is crucial to acknowledge that not social media itself, but the quality and quantity of the time spent using it affects mental health and behavioral patterns. According to Karim et al. (2), the Displaced Behavior Theory can provide an accurate explanation of the connection between emotional well-being and social networking. Thus, individuals who spend more of their time “in sedentary behaviors such as social media users have less time for face-to-face social interaction, both of which have been proven to be protective against mental disorders” (Karim et al. 2). In addition, the design of platforms such as Facebook and Instagram impacts the social patterns people tend to rely on during the process of maintaining their close relationships. As a result, they start to feel more anxious and disappointed once they recognize their inability to connect with others in real life.

The unnecessary use of social media platforms leads to feelings of depression and anxiety, which poses a threat to the global population’s mental well-being. The most common risk factors associated with such issues in the context of social media use include the excess of time spent, the quality of activities engaged in, and the overall addiction to social media.

Social Media and the Fear of Missing Out

When discussing the impact of social media on mental health, one of the most important concepts is the fear of missing out, which is simply referred to as FOMO online. In the study conducted by Hunt et al., the main reason why the participants were more likely to feel less depressed if they spent less time on social media platforms was the absence of stress-inducing content. Young people were simply spared from observing celebrities, influencers, or just their friends going on vacations, succeeding career-wise, or showcasing their affectionate relationships with significant others. Individuals fall into depressive episodes and develop suicidal thoughts due to the feelings of envy and disappointment fueled by looking at the pictures of someone’s seemingly perfect life. This leads to social media users questioning their own choices, which, in turn, affects their self-worth. Ultimately, by limiting the time spent on Instagram or Facebook, people consume less content. Therefore, by extension, they spend less time comparing themselves to others, which reduces the risk of developing depression.

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Distraction Turns into Chaos

It is no wonder why so many people use social media primarily as a certain form of escapism to distract themselves from the less-than-perfect reality. Unfortunately, this often results in their inability to accept and cope with the tragedies of life, including terrorist attacks, bombings, and natural disasters. Elisa Shearer from the Pew Research Center notes that approximately 20% of Americans receive all of their news from social media sites. It becomes apparent that while trying to escape, people still have to face the vicious cycle of negativity perpetuated by news media platforms online.

The Potential Benefits of Social Media

Despite the aforementioned arguments supported by reliable academic research, some still agree that social media is an overall positive invention. Mesfin Awoke Bekalu, a researcher at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, suggests that routine social media use positively affects primary health-related outcomes, including social well-being, self-rated health, and mental health. Visiting sites such as Facebook and Instagram to respond to others’ content and post personal images can be beneficial, according to Bekalu. However, it is important to recognize that social media use is usually accompanied by a destructive emotional connection to the content shared by others, which results in excessive time spent on apps.

Thus, a person is vulnerable to feelings of disappointment, self-hatred, and isolation, which often results in depression and anxiety disorders. Therefore, it is crucial to keep the statistics and scholarly research in mind before praising the platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. On the one hand, they are practical and beneficial since they allow people to connect easily and find a community of like-minded individuals. On the other hand, the sites should be used in moderation to avoid social comparison and escapist patterns in behavior.

Conclusion

In conclusion, social media is not necessarily the enemy. If used in moderation, the opportunities it provides to people are countless. With the recent growth in popularity and penetration of social networking sites, the impact of platforms such as Instagram and Facebook is bigger than ever. With regards to the latest research, it is evident that excessive use of such apps poses a threat of developing mental health disorders and feelings of loneliness and self-hatred. Isolation, fear of missing out, and anxiety are concepts often associated with excessive social media use. Therefore, the time spent online should be limited and controlled to limit the amount of stress from the content posted on these platforms.

Works Cited

Bekalu, Mesfin Awoke. “Social Media Use Can Be Positive for Mental Health and Well-Being.” Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, 2020, Web.

Hunt, Melissa G., et al. “No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression.” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, vol. 37, no. 10, 2018, pp. 751-768, Web.

Karim, Fazida, et al. “Social Media Use and Its Connection to Mental Health: A Systematic Review.” Cureus, vol. 12, no. 6, 2020. NCBI, Web.

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Lyall, Laura M., et al. Association of Disrupted Circadian Rhythmicity with Mood Disorders, Subjective Wellbeing, and Cognitive Function: A Cross-Sectional Study of 91 105 Participants from the UK Biobank.” The Lancet Psychiatry, vol. 5, no. 6, 2019, pp. 507-514, Web.

Ortiz-Ospina, Esteban. “The Rise of Social Media.” Our World in Data, 2019, Web.

Shearer, Elisa. “Social Media Outpaces Print Newspapers in the U.S. as a News Source.” Pew Research Center, 2018, Web.

Tankovska, Hana. Number of Social Network Users Worldwide from 2017 to 2025. Statista, Web.

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