Social Media and Mental Health: How Social Media Affects Your Mental Health

  • Post last modified:October 25, 2022
  • Post category:Articles / Social media
Social media and mental health: an image of a phone with social media icons

Researchers are still investigating the relationship between social media and mental health.

“I feel like it consumes you…to the point that you can’t live your normal life because you see everyone else’s… I think it makes you think your life is not as fun or as exciting or interesting [as] other peoples’, which is sad because it’s not true.” 1

Those are the thoughts of one participant in a study on the dark side of social media—thoughts that I believe most of us can relate to.

We are slowly becoming aware that social media is a tool that is very much like fire: it can burn down our homes or help us cook our food.

The key, it seems, is in how you use it.

This post explores the intersection between social media and mental health. 

If you’re concerned about how social media affects your mental health, this post offers an overview of how social media may be hurting your overall mental health and well-being.

Table of Contents

Social Media and Mental Health: How Does Social Media Affect Your Mental Health?

Social media can negatively or positively impact your mental health depending on your individual traits and how you use it. 2 3

For instance, you risk a negative experience if you use social media excessively. Also, passively consuming information and using several social media platforms can be bad for your mental health.

In terms of individual traits, your self-esteem, confidence, and tendency to compare yourself to others on social media will determine its effects on your overall wellbeing.

Individual Differences Determine Social Media’s Effect

  • Social media and social support

Key point: Individuals with low offline levels of social support may benefit more from social media than their peers with higher offline social support.

Social media increases social support and capital among individuals, and the more you interact with friends and family online, the more you feel you have people in your life you can depend on. 4

But the level of social support differs for extroverts and introverts. 

Extroverts who have strong offline social networks may not particularly benefit from online social interactions; rather, social media may hurt their relationships if they spend too much time online, neglecting their close friends and family. 5

For introverts with weak offline social networks, online social interaction may benefit their mental health by increasing their social support and helping them connect with more people online. (Introverts find it easier to express themselves and connect with others when they are behind a screen.)

 

  • Social media and self-esteem

Key point: The lower your self-esteem, the more negative your experience on social media. 

Individuals with low self-esteem suffer more negative consequences than their peers.

One study, for instance, showed a powerful correlation between an individual’s self-esteem and how often they compared themselves to others on social media. 6

That is, the lower your self-esteem, the more you compare yourself to others and the more you suffer the negative consequences of that habit. 

 

  • Social media, social comparison, and envy

Key point: The more you compare yourself to others, the less happy you are.

As humans, comparison is a natural habit we indulge in. 

But this habit can be destructive on social media, especially when comparing ourselves to strangers. 

On social media, most people only post the positive sides of their lives—their achievements, happy relationships, vacations—creating a sort of ideal, perfect facade of themselves.

And when you compare yourself to those picture-perfect lives, it can be depressing, especially if your life is far from perfect (which is the case for most of us) and especially if you have low self-esteem.

In fact, the more often you compare yourself to others, the higher your chances of feeling bad after using social media. 7

How You Use Social Media Determines Its Effect

  • Passively Using Social Media

Key point: Using social media passively, whether to keep up with friends or with the latest news, can be detrimental to your mental health.

Passively using social media means merely consuming information without contributing or participating online, like mindlessly scrolling through news feeds, watching the status updates of others, and browsing the photographs and profiles of friends.

Researchers have associated heavy passive use with negative effects and active use (like messaging with friends and family) with positive effects. 8 9

 

  • Using social media for entertainment and as an escape from boredom

Key point: Social media as entertainment can severely weaken your ability to concentrate for long periods. 

Most people now use social media to entertain themselves and banish boredom from their lives. 

But social media is not the best medium for entertainment.

Because of its highly addictive nature, we get ‘hooked’ to social media and find ourselves spending several hours a day on the platform. 

This can cause several problems, like neglecting your friends and family while spending all your time on social media or foregoing healthy offline activities like exercise to spend more time online.

This habit can also make you highly dependent on your mobile device as a means of escape and weaken your focus and ability to withstand the slightest form of boredom. 10

 

  • Using social media frequently and for long periods

Key pointIndiscriminate, uncontrolled social media use wreaks havoc on your mind. 

Using social media frequently and for longer periods without control can have unavoidable negative effects on your mental health. 11

Heavy social media users often have a distorted view of reality and feel terrible about their own lives.

If you use social media heavily, you’re more likely to believe that others are happier, life is unfair, and others are living richer, better lives than you. 12

 

  • Following and interacting with random strangers

Key point: Randomly following strangers online sabotages your peace of mind.

Online social interactions do not provide the same benefits as direct, face-to-face interactions.

So, using social media as the main way to meet and interact with new people could do more harm than good.

For instance, a study on Instagram use concluded that the platform negatively affected users who followed many strangers, 13 and another study on general internet use concluded that those who use the internet mainly to meet and interact with new people developed more depressive symptoms over time. 14

 

  • Using multiple social media platforms

Key point: Using 2 to 3 social media platforms may be fine for your mental health, but more than 3 may just be unhealthy.

Currently, individuals are encouraged to create profiles on several social media platforms for various reasons. 

Snapchat, WhatsApp, and other messaging apps can be used to keep up with friends; Twitter and Reddit for latest news; LinkedIn for building professional connections; Pinterest and Tumblr for inspiration; and Instagram for connecting with brands and celebrities.

In short, there is an important reason to use each of these sites. 

But researchers have shown that using multiple social media platforms may increase an individual’s odds of suffering from depression and anxiety.

More specifically, individuals who use between 7 to 11 social media platforms experience more depression and anxiety symptoms than those who use between 0 to 2. 15

Footnotes

  1. Fox J., Moreland J. (2015). The dark side of social networking sites: An exploration of the relational and psychological stressors associated with Facebook use and affordances.
  2. Best P., Manktelow R., Taylor B. (2014). Online communication, social media and adolescent wellbeing: A systematic narrative review 
  3.  Orben Amy. (2020). Teenagers, screens and social media: a narrative review of reviews and key studies 
  4. Nabi R., Prestin A., So J. (2013). Facebook Friends with (Health) Benefits? Exploring Social Network Site Use and Perceptions of Social Support, Stress, and Well-Being
  5. Bessière K., Kiesler S., Kraut R., Boneva B. (2008). Effects of Internet Use and Social Resources on Changes in Depression 
  6. Lee S. (2014). How do people compare themselves with others on social network sites?: The case of Facebook. 
  7. Lee S. (2014). How do people compare themselves with others on social network sites?: The case of Facebook.
  8. Verduyn P, Lee DS, Park J, et al. (2015). Passive Facebook usage undermines affective well-being: Experimental and longitudinal evidence.
  9. Aalbers, George, McNally, Richard J., et al. (2019). Social Media and Depression Symptoms: A Network Perspective.
  10. Davis Katie. (2012). Friendship 2.0: Adolescents’ experiences of belonging and self-disclosure online.
  11. Sagioglou Christina and Greitemeyer Tobias. (2014). Facebook’s emotional consequences: Why Facebook causes a decrease in mood and why people still use it.
  12. Chou G., Edge N. (2012). ‘‘They Are Happier and Having Better Lives than I Am’’: The Impact of Using Facebook on Perceptions of Others’ Lives.
  13. Lup K., Trub L., Rosenthal L. (2015). Instagram #instasad?: exploring associations among Instagram use, depressive symptoms, negative social comparison, and strangers followed.
  14. Bessière K., Kiesler S., Kraut R., Boneva B. (2008). Effects of Internet Use and Social Resources on Changes in Depression.
  15. Primack B, Shensa A., Escobar-Viera C., et al. (2017). Use of multiple social media platforms and symptoms of depression and anxiety: A nationally-representative study among U.S. young adults.

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