It’s hard to wrap our heads around just how far the internet has come in the last 40 years or so, transforming from something only ever thought to be of use by the Department of Defense into maybe the most important invention in human history.
And while we have access to the entire wealth of human knowledge and human history just a click or two away it’s impossible to argue that most people spend their time online combing through social media.
With one out of every four people worldwide signed up for at least one social media platform it should come as no surprise to anyone that there have been effects of social media on mental health – some positive, but many negative – that we are just now starting to understand.
To learn more about how social media impacts our overall mental health, interpersonal relationships, and even our worldview let’s dig a little deeper.
How and Why Social Media is Bad for Mental Health
According to a new report in the Medical News Today Journal, Americans alone spend just over 7.6 hours a week on social media (on average) – with teenagers spending that amount of time on social media almost every single day.
Most of us use social media almost subconsciously, jumping on without any clear goals or any real interest in finding something specific. Instead we are simply looking for “a fix”, some sort of dopamine dump, and a way to kill time while we procrastinate or otherwise ignore our responsibilities.
This is having a horrendous impact on our overall attention spans and our ability to focus.
Scientists at the University of Michigan recently published a paper showing that the overall average attention span in the United States has dropped by more than 50% in the last 20 years alone – and that social factors affecting mental health (including social media) are a big part in this dwindling of our ability to control our minds and shape our focus.
Even worse, new studies show that 63% of those that have a social media account are also dealing with what is now described as social media addiction.
This means that six out of every 10 people that have a social media account are visiting social media multiple times a day, sometimes as many as 20 times a day, and spending a significant portion of their “free time” – as well as a decent amount of time at school or at work – plowing through different social media updates.
Researchers believe that this kind of activity – jumping on social media, paying attention to social media notifications, scrolling through new posts, and then seeing how many comments or likes particular posts are getting – all has the disastrous impact of creating negative feedback loops.
University researchers in Norway are digging deeper into how this negative feedback loop can tie together social media and Depression, and their early reports are suggesting that not only can social media cause anxiety but it’s also one of the leading causes of anxiety in our society today.
Social Media and Depression
Anxiety UK, a research group in the United Kingdom, recently conducted a survey on social media usage and how it impacts overall human emotions.
53% of the participants stated that there was a real connection between social media and changes in their behavior, and 51% reported these changes were negatively impacting their lives.
Not only did this new research show a link between social media and overall depressive and anxious feelings, but it also showed a link between a decrease in interest in face-to-face encounters, lower abilities to hold conversations with people in the “real world”, and a reticence to share fully, openly, and honestly – online or off.
Combine that with the natural inclination for people to compare their lives with the idealized versions people post on social media and it’s easy to see why so many feel depressed when using these platforms.
Social Media and Anxiety
Social media and anxiety are also closely intertwined. While researchers are looking deeper into how does social media cause anxiety in the first place, a lot of early reporting suggests that the removal of face-to-face contact and communication with people, the anonymity that these platforms provide, and the ability to be our “worst selves” – or have people be there worst selves to us online – has only jacked up the overall anxiety people feel on a regular basis.
Cyber bullying issues are on the rise, with 95% of all teenagers in the United States reporting that they have experienced cyber bullying either firsthand or secondhand on the internet today.
Today’s generation of young people are growing up in the “always on” internet environment. This makes a lot of them feel as though they have to participate in this constant flow of input and output or they’ll be left behind. Feelings like this will only increase the connection between social media and anxiety moving forward.
Social Media and Mental Health Statistics
As we highlighted a number of times throughout this guide, the statistics regarding the effects of social media on mental health are anything but glowingly positive.
Some of the worst statistics out there revolve around our young people, people that are forced to learn how to navigate this new hyper connected world all alone simply because they are the first generation to really be born into and raised up with this kind of connectivity.
In a study conducted by the University of Michigan 75% of college students participating felt like they had to curate their lives on social media to be successful, 67% believed that they had to engage regularly – daily – on social media to stay connected to their friends and peers, and 58% felt like they were leading lives that were less successful, less interesting, and less engaging than those they saw on social media.
The odds are pretty good that social media isn’t going to disappear anytime soon. We are going to have to figure out how to handle this kind of technology moving forward, how to work with this new online landscape, and hopefully will be able to do so sooner rather than later as things aren’t looking all that great right now.