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Social Media: How it MIGHT ruin your mental health

We all like an alcoholic drink. After working hard all week, we like the delicious impact of cold beer or fruity wine hitting our throats and entangling our taste buds. So why don’t we drink all of the time? Well firstly, we wouldn’t be very productive. Not only would we quickly become financially unstable but our lives would also fall apart. Our relationships would collapse, our career would be neglected and we would become a burden to society rather than a beneficial samaritan. And then of course, there's the hangover. The dreaded awakening on a Sunday morning with your head spinning, stomach churning and mouth as dry as the Sahara dessert. The thankful thing about addictive substances is that they generally have withdrawal symptoms alongside them, and this is the short term motivation to tell yourself that you're never drinking again (until you do). But what about social media? It is as addictive as alcohol but the difference is that it’s free, it doesn't seem as dangerous and on first look, there are no withdrawal symptoms. A dangerous combination. But now, over time and with new expertise, it is becoming clear that this might not be the case. Despite being free in cost, social media is depleting us in terms of time and connection with others, it is having several dangerous side effects and it turns out that the withdrawals might be far more significant than a bad head and the fear. It is having an impact on our mental health. In this three part mini series, we are going to speak about the detrimental side effects of social media, followed by why social media isn’t as bad as the media is portraying, and finishing on the new and extremely important term known as sadfishing. We very much recommend that if you read one of these social media posts, it’s essential that you read the others to prevent yourself from being biased.

This year, a team from John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland looked at 6,595 US youngsters aged 12 - 15 and their relationships with social media. The findings were published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. Data showed that those who used social media more heavily were more likely to report issues such as depression, anxiety and loneliness, as well as aggression and anti-social behaviour, than teenagers who did not use social media. This was a well designed study because it took account of participants who already had mental health issues before. The researchers summarised “We cannot conclude that social media causes mental health problems, but we do think that less time on social media may be better for teens’ health.”

This comes alongside several studies that have linked time spent on social media with mental health problems. This led to researchers, psychologists and most experts on the matter to begin speaking out about the dangers of social media and this has led to a parental dislike of any social media platform. And for good reason. Social media allows children to portray versions of themselves that they’re not, known in psychology as the ideal self.

The difference then, between one’s ideal self and what they are actually like, also known as their actual self, is what can cause lots of mental health problems. On top of this, the like button has become an evaluation button for many. I am a good person if I get over 500 likes and I am a bad person if I get under 500 likes. Don’t believe me? Search the phrase ‘posting and deleting’ on twitter and you will see overwhelming evidence of children and teens deleting pictures that didn't get enough likes. On top of this, social media is also incredibly addictive. Harvard researcher Trevor Haynes found that notifications resulted in releases of dopamine in the brain, similar to the high you get when you take cocaine. The development of this addiction also stems from FOMO or fear of missing out. This is the withdrawal symptom of social media. Nobody wants to be the person that isn’t up to date with the latest Tiktok challenge or influencer that made an idiot of themselves . They want to be in the conversation and this results in continuous checks of homepages. However, what is even more concerning is that researchers are finding that we have a physiological response to not having social media. Our skin perspires more when we do not have access to our phones and we see other people using their phones. Due to this addictiveness, social media can also ruin sleep quality because people stay up all night scrolling and absorbing blue light that activates photoreceptors in the brain. And then there’s cyberbullying.

While girls are more likely to express their aggression towards others through nasty messages, spreading gossip and telling lies through social media, boys' physical aggression is enhanced by easy access to pornography and violence. Statistics have shown worldwide that 20% - 35% of teens report being cyberbullies on at least one occasion. Before, children had the home as a safe space from school bullying but social media has given a platform for people to be bullied in their own homes. To add more to the list, social media also makes people far more conscious of their body image.

Through influencers and unrealistic portrayals, social media promotes the importance of being famous and making a living from it (look at Love Island). The best way to do this is to meet society's perfectionist but unattainable body image. this can be seen as peoples' Instagram images involve less and less clothes, at times being referred to as softcore porn. This is making people compare themselves with the models they see on their screens and more critical of how they look. Evidence of this can be seen through eating disorders skyrocketing.

And if all of this wasn't enough, the documentary 'The Great Hack' and other journalists have highlighted an issue that has only recently come alight; social media companies have complete access to our data, meaning that they know what we're doing and they can manipulate our decision making. Great!

So it’s very clear that there is an abundance of issues with social media and I am not doing a very good job arguing in favour of it. In fact, I should also state that I am not on Instagram, but not because of mental health reasons. As I come down from my high horse, I chose against it because I felt its homepage would waste too much of my life. The best way you can avoid getting addicted to something is to not using it at all! But rememeber, that was my choice and not my parents. However, despite all these dangers, I want to emphasise that social media is not the cause of the mental health epidemic and pointing the finger at it being the sole cause is gullible. Next week's blog will give the reasons why and give advice on how to protect yourself and your children from the dangers of social media. Yours Sincerely, The Motus Movement.


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