Is Social Media Degrading Mental Health?
By: Saksham Tiwari
Do you feel like you occasionally overthink a lot? Your social media services could be the reason! And not just regarding overthinking, but a plethora of other issues, such as anxiety, depression, loneliness, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts, can be a result of these applications on our mobile phones.
Social Media. These two words sound so simple, yet they can be so complex. It is more complex than one can ever imagine. These social platforms, which are made up of an entirely different world inside, have become an increasingly important part of our lives; a defining part of who we are as individuals. As technology is advancing, times are improving. People move in and out of places, travel to different countries, hence may travel far from where their loved ones are. In such cases, social media tends to bring them closer together by virtually connecting them. It is for reasons as simple as this one, that these services prove to be essential. But it is a common proverb that says too much of a good thing is a bad thing. Then what is bad with social media? And more importantly, if not used properly, how does it have the potential to end up with adverse effects?
Statistics shared by the Pew Research Center found, "eighth-graders who spend over 10 hours on social media per week are 56% more likely to report being unhappy than those who spend less time on social media. Spending more than 3 hours on social media per day puts adolescents at a higher risk for mental health problems. 13% of kids ages 12–17 report depression and 32% report anxiety. 25% of 18 to 25-year-olds report mental illness. These age groups report high usage of social media. 59% of US teens experience cyberbullying or online harassment. 90% say they think this is a problem that affects other people their age. 63% say that it’s a major problem."
A study conducted in January of 2022 by McLean Hospital, affiliated with Harvard Medical School, conveyed how social media affects a person’s mental health. The idea is to activate the brain’s reward center by releasing dopamine, a "feel-good chemical" linked to pleasurable activities, such as food and social interaction. These sites are specifically designed to be addictive and are associated with anxiety, depression, and even physical ailments. According to the Pew Research Center, 69% of the adults and 81% of the teenagers in the US are on social media platforms, which means a large percentage of the population is at an increased risk of feeling anxious, depressed, or ill. But the question arises: why does someone constantly need to check their accounts on such websites, even if that makes them sick?
"When the outcome is unpredictable, the behavior is more likely to repeat," says Sperling, one of the researchers. Being on social media affects how a person might see themselves. It can make people feel insecure about themselves: how many likes they got, if they got more likes than someone else, how someone might reply to their text, or simply the fear of missing out (also known as FOMO). These questions don’t seem to be that bad, do they? But guess what would happen if someone thought about these things every single day? Without even realizing it, that person might start overthinking and may begin to imagine situations. It would slowly lead to a deterioration of mental health and ultimately result in adverse mental conditions like the ones discussed above. Although there hasn't been much evidence of this one, many researchers also believe that schizophrenia—a serious mental disorder in which people interpret reality abnormally—can be one of the causes of social media.
It’s high time that we start considering the situation and understand ways to avoid dire consequences. Using social media isn’t bad, but using it without control is. Try spending more time together in-person. Even talking on the phone via phone call is better than typing on a keyboard. Verbal interaction is far more effective than a silent one. And most importantly, don’t isolate yourself to avoid sociability. Always remember that you are so much more than what you post. Those likes and comments don’t define you. Your personality is solely based on how you treat yourself and how you act around other people.