Social media doesn’t tend to be widely trumpeted as something that benefits our mental health but when used moderately and mindfully, it can help boost our sense of wellbeing.
At present, only a few studies examining social media and mental health have found a direct correlation between social media and depression and its related symptoms. However, research indicates that excessive use of social media may disrupt things that have a positive impact on mental health – for example, exercising, sleeping and socialising.
Also, FOMO (fear of missing out) and comparing ourselves to other people online can create feelings of jealousy, anxiety, and inadequacy.
A recent report examining social media and mental health shows that for young people, too little or too much time online could have a negative impact.
"What I find interesting about the findings from this report is that those who spent less than two hours online a day reported having lower levels of depression and anxiety, but also lower support from friends and support-focused coping," says Jackie Hallan, Acting Head of Service Delivery at leading mental health service ReachOut.
"This shows just how important the online world and social media is for teens and to their friendships. It’s definitely all about finding the right balance."
Curate your feed
As well as being sensible with how much time you spend on social media, being mindful of what you expose yourself to online is vital.
Increasing exposure to harmful content, cyber-bullying, and the pressure to portray a perfect life, face and body, can be problematic, particularly for young people.
Regularly viewing content that triggers feelings of anxiety or inadequacy will affect many peoples’ mental health in a negative way, so try and be aware of the type of content you consume.
If you actively look for content and follow people that make you smile, inform and inspire you, you’re far less likely to experience a negative response to social media, and can even benefit from it.
“We know that social media can leave us feeling flat, especially when we compare our lives to other people’s filtered highlights reel. Body image is a big issue, especially for young people. Seeing so many images of perfect-looking bodies can feel very overwhelming, but in actual fact they’re often highly edited pictures. It’s important to remember that social media rarely reflects all aspects of anyone’s life authentically,” says Hallan.
A family affair
Although young people are the most prolific users of social media, concerns about its potential impact of mental health apply to everyone.
According to a recent survey by ReachOut, one in three parents are spending between one to five-plus hours on social media every day. This highlights a potential disconnect between some parents’ concerns about the amount of time their child spends online versus their own usage.
On a more positive note, the survey also indicated that cyber-security campaigns are working, with 86% of parents saying they’re having conversations with their teenager about social media use, including topics such as cyberbullying, protecting personal information and acceptable online behaviour.
Social media is here to stay
Love it or hate it, social media is a part of modern life for many people. Being aware of its positive and negative effects on our mental health – and tailoring how we use it – is no doubt the best way forward.
“Social media is really important for a lot of people, especially teens, and particularly when it comes to friendships, keeping up with what’s going on, and combating social isolation,” says Hallan.
“Of course, there are also challenges to being hyper-connected, so it’s important to consider how social media can be used in a positive way,” she adds.
“It’s important that we attempt to take advantage of all the positive things social media can offer us and try to minimise the negatives,” says Hallan.
“We can do a lot to manage the impact it has on our own health. Spending time doing the stuff we love away from social media, unfollowing accounts that aren’t making us feel good, and only looking at positive content – it all helps.”