NCS3 Student Volunteer
It has been 17 years since the launch of Twitter, 12 years since Instagram, and almost 7 years since the launch of TikTok. These are only a few of the various social media apps and websites that have connected users across the world in most recent years. Yet the mental health implications of social media are not fully understood, with some findings demonstrating negative impacts on youth mental health.
Many people are eager and excited to download and use these social media platforms to be connected online to other people while also sometimes disconnecting from the realities of day-to-day life. From laughing at memes, to seeing friends’ feeds, to catching up with family, and even participating in new trends, social media does a great job of keeping us distracted and occupied. These platforms can be very entertaining, though they may warrant caution given data that they may do more harm than good for some users. Social media is great in how fast it can communicate with others. It can reach vast amounts of people rapidly and efficiently, all while continuing to connect people across the world. Social media may portray a form of social connectedness amongst individuals. It allows one to see what other people are up to in their life and the ability to share with others.
I can't help but to think of what my advisor in high school would say during the early days of Instagram, “it's ironic how we are the most connected generation but at the same time the loneliest”. Everyone I knew was using Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, and occasionally Facebook. We were all connected digitally yet we were all in our own bubbles. The urge to keep up with trends, challenges, and selfies, made us all lose a piece of our understanding of one another. While social media was on the rise, so was stress, anxiety, and depression.
One study found that 4 out of 5 most used platforms made anxiety worse for individuals (O’Reilly et al., 2018). A similar study found that individuals who use social media for more than 2 hours per day, reported poor mental health and psychological distress related to three themes:
1) Social media leading to mood and anxiety disorders for some adolescents
2) Cyberbullying occurring on social media platforms
3) The ‘addictiveness’ of social media
Social media unintentionally promotes social isolation. Many users are trapped in the never-ending feeds and some find themselves addicted to the platforms. The numerous hours of screen time can lead to reduction in face-to-face interaction and increasing isolation. In addition to the social implications, social media may contribute to sleep deprivation which can fuel anxiety. The blue light from screens keeps people awake and alert, especially at night, making it difficult to sleep. Many users get this exposure to blue light from their phones and from the apps themselves which are mainly lined with blue fonts and headings. Experiencing sleep deprivation, peoples’ mental health may deteriorate, feeding an unhealthy cycle that can harm one’s mental well-being.
I believe that there should be more education and training available for educators and students to prevent social media addiction, anxiety, and other mental harm associated with social media use. While some apps are taking it upon themselves to try to address these issues, such as implementing self-regulated screen time restrictions and dark modes, there is still more that can be done. TikTok started a more aggressive form of regulation by implementing ads to remind users to log off and get sleep. It doesn't change the reality that TikTok is still one of the most addicting apps on the market today, however, this is a step in the right direction.