In our technological society, it is important to consider the effects that social media has on our mental health. Just over the past 5 years, social media usage has increased by more than 50 percent (Hunt et al., 2018). Many people rely on social media for communication, advertising, news, and entertainment. Though social media offers convenience and other benefits, studies have shown that social media may trigger negative emotions that can ultimately worsen existing depression or potentially cause depression. This blog post will focus on the connection between social media and depression.
It has been established for a long time that there is a connection between social media and depression. More recently, researchers have suggested decreasing social media use can lead to increased well-being and potentially decrease negative emotions and depression. In an experimental study of 143 undergraduates at the University of Pennsylvania, it was found that those who limited their use of social media for three weeks showed significantly lower levels of depression than those who used it without any monitoring. Interestingly, both groups showed significant decreases in depression, as even the group that did not have monitoring restrictions were still aware of their usage. This study shows an important finding that self-monitoring social media usage can even lead to increased well-being and a decrease in depressive feelings (Hunt et al., 2018).
Social media and depression: potential explanations why it can cause negative feelings
- Users who spend a lot of time on social media platforms likely engage in frequent social comparisons that can lead to feelings of inadequacy and loneliness. Viewing pictures that are carefully edited and curated can make someone feel negative about their own life. Social media is usually not an accurate representation of what someone’s life really looks like, causing these social comparisons to be based on something unattainable. This misleading display of photos that are seemingly “perfect” can lead to viewers feeling inadequate, ultimately leading to symptoms of depression.
- Social media and depression may be linked because it can cause many viewers to feel left out. People often use sites such as Instagram and Snapchat to post pictures from events, parties, and vacations. If someone was left out of a certain plan, seeing their friends hang out without them can lead to feelings of resentment and loneliness. The feeling of being left out can certainly contribute to depression.
- Many people use social media as a means to say things that they would not necessarily say in a face-to-face context. It is much easier to sit behind a screen and say something hurtful than it is to say it to someone’s face. Social media platforms have increased the amount of cyberbullying that occurs. Being a victim of cyberbullying can be extraordinarily hurtful and this can contribute to depression.
- Social media is how we observe the lives of celebrities and influencers, but the lives that these individuals display are unrealistic. Social media influencers are constantly posting pictures of themselves that are intended to display perfect lives, perfect bodies, and materialism. This can create an unrealistic expectation as to what our bodies and lives should look like. Constantly comparing ourselves to unrealistic pictures of influencers and celebrities can create negative feelings and be one reason why social media and depression are connected.
- Many Americans use social media platforms as their main source of news. Platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are constantly publishing news stories that emphasize bad news like hate crimes, political strife, celebrity deaths, and terrorist attacks. With instant access, people are exposing themselves to bad news at a much faster rate than ever before. In previous generations, people had to wait for the newspaper to come out in order to receive an update. Today, bad news is circulated across social media just moments after it occurs. This increase in exposure to bad news is having adverse effects on our mental health, causing feelings of hopelessness and an increased likelihood of developing depression (Hunt et al., 2018).
What are some ways to continue to reap the benefits from social media but also prevent it from negatively impacting your mental health?
- In the study referenced earlier in this article, researchers found that reducing social media usage to 30 minutes per day resulted in less mental health issues for users, including depression. If 30 minutes sounds like too drastic of a change for you, you can adjust the reduction time to something that works for you! Think about how much time you are currently spending and see if you can reduce that by 25%. If you have an iPhone or Android, your phone’s settings can show you how much time you are spending on each app every day, and you can also program your settings to only allow you to spend a certain amount of time on each app. This is a great way to monitor yourself and set realistic goals that can improve your mental health.
- You can find times to leave your phone behind or shut off your device. When you are out with friends, out in nature, or even in the bathroom, it may be helpful to spend time that is spent off of your device entirely. This helps you be more present and more mindful in the moment.
- You can disable social media notifications. When your phone is constantly buzzing, it is difficult to resist checking every notification. To prevent this urge, you can simply turn off the notifications in your settings.
- You can do a social media cleanse and unfollow accounts that do not make you feel good. If you are left with negative feelings after looking at a certain account, it is important to consider if you want to unfollow or even mute them. You can also follow certain accounts that tend to promote more positive messages.
- Human beings are social creatures and you do not want social media to become a replacement for companionship. Humans need contact with others to experience a sense of belonging, connection, and intimacy.
Social Media and Depression Takeaway:
Though social media can offer benefits, research shows that decreasing your usage on social media can really improve your well-being and decrease feelings of sadness and depression. Though the students in the research article decreased their usage to 30 minutes a day, it is important to start with a realistic goal that works for you. Starting with small goals to decrease social media usage may be an important step in improving your mental health.
Though social media is intended to connect people, ironically, too much time spent on social media can result in a worse mood and even feelings of depression. It is so easy to get sucked in by social media and you are not alone if you are experiencing feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, frustration, or low self-esteem from the content that you see.
If you need some support and guidance with navigating how to adjust your social media usage, and/or how to cope with feelings of depression it would be our honor to help you. You are welcome to reach out for a complimentary phone consultation.
Hunt, M. G., Marx, R., Lipson, C., & Young, J. (2018). No more FOMO: Limiting social media decreases loneliness and depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 37(10), 751–768. https://doi.org/10.1521/jscp.2018.37.10.751
Thank you Jacqueline Zimmerman, Best Within You Therapy & Wellness intern, for her help with this blog post.