Over the past decade, as the use of social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter has grown, researchers have started to look into the impact of such a popular and widespread method of recording daily life. An individual's self-esteem has been linked to an increase in social media usage over the course of a year when compared to other forms of screen time, such playing video games (Boers et al., 2019). Symptoms of depression have also been proven to be correlated with a significant decline in self-esteem, and social media may actually worsen these symptoms over time (Boers et al., 2019). In this blog, I’m going to be looking into the correlation between mental health and the internet, and whether these ‘popular’ social media platforms are actually doing more harm than good.
The negative influence
Influencers frequently have a negative impact on the mental health of young people. Social media influencers now have more influence than traditional celebrities. As a young girl, seeing people who go out to fancy restaurants, own designer products, go on vacation, and get surgery to achieve their ideal look has a significant impact. Even as a young man, seeing 'perfect gym' bodies and the stigmas associated with them has a significant impact on youth. This can also be related to mental health and eating disorders. A depiction of living a 'balanced' and 'healthy' lifestyle in order to have the perfect body can lead to young people feeling pressure to look or behave in particular ways in order to feel beautiful or have the 'perfect body.' Particularly in 2020-2021, the portrayal of a 'perfect body' has taken on the idea of an hourglass figure, thanks to influencers such as Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian. This poses a serious risk to children because they might not realise or comprehend that influencers frequently fake perfect bodies and perfect lives.
According to a 2019 Mental Health Foundation survey of adolescents (aged 13 to 19), 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 10 males had altered their face or physique in digital images as a result of having a negative self-image, which could lead to severe body dysmorphia later in life. Almost a third of young adults (aged 18 to 24) reported having lately experienced embarrassment over their body image, and one in four reported feeling overwhelmed by their negative thoughts about their appearance. Teenagers are not the only ones harmed by the online world. In the study, 22% of adults stated they were concerned about their body image as a result of social media posts, comparable to 22% of youth.
The likelihood of cyberbullying rises as people use and are exposed to social media more frequently. Threats, hostile, demoralising, or abusive remarks or messages, as well as manipulated images or videos, can be generated and published outside of the victim's control before they have a chance to respond on social media sites that permit free and open commenting. Those who experience online bullying may hide it from their real-life friends and family out of embarrassment, which can exacerbate feelings of loneliness, sadness, and anxiety. Lack of knowledge and assistance can also make it difficult for victims to talk about their issues, which can result in poor mental health.
Rates of stress, depression, and anxiety are higher amongst students involved in cyberbullying than those not, with Ybarra and Mitchell (2004) reporting that of those who cyberbullied, 39% dropped out of school, 37% showed delinquent behavior, 32% engaged in frequent substance abuse, and 16% were severely depressed.
Nowadays, teens are so addicted to social media that they forego valuable sleep. Sleep deprivation has been linked to serious mental health issues like depression and anxiety. A study of high school students found that each hour of sleep deprivation was associated with a 38% increase in the risk of feeling sad and a 58% increase in suicidal ideation ("How Technology and Sleep Deprivation Affect Teens", 2018). Teens who do not get enough sleep become more aggressive, irritable, and lose concentration, resulting in poor academic performance. Furthermore, social media has developed into an addiction. Like other addictive behaviours, the brain responds to social media by releasing dopamine, which provides a sense of reward ("How Technology and Sleep Deprivation Affect Teens", 2018). Teens become overly concerned with their social media accounts and tend to log on incessantly, leaving important tasks undone (Hillard,2019). As a result, adolescent social networking site addiction can harm not only their mental health but also their future.
Whilst social media platforms can help adolescents feel connected and stay in touch with friends and family, excessive use is having a negative impact on mental health, such as an increase in anxiety, depression, loneliness, and low self-esteem. It is critical that young people understand that not everything they observe online is real life and that they are educated on the realities of social media.