Social Media and Your Mental Health
By Carol Heath
This subject has been knocking around in my head for years. I’ve hesitated writing about it as I know my feelings about social media seem to be antiquated to say the very least. I endeavor to give most things a fighting chance before I rain down on them with my strong opinions.
I was living with this family consisting of Mom, 2 older brothers, and an adorable young girl when social media began to get a foothold in the human race. I'd watched this family go through a very nasty divorce, including an in-depth investigation of some pretty horrendous acquisitions made by the father towards the mother. Considering all things, the family was pretty ‘normal.' I hate that word as there is no such thing as normal. But I digress.
One afternoon I noticed my favorite 11-year-old sitting in front of her computer crying hysterically. That was the afternoon I was introduced to Facebook. In my humble opinion, one of the worse things ever devised by man, well one man, Mark Zuckerberg. My little friend was crying as several of her friends had decided to start a smear campaign against her as she seemed to be getting a lot of attention from the opposite sex. Unfortunately, this was only the first time Facebook would cause a problem for this young eleven-year-old.
I can hear you already, all the things Facebook does: keeps people connected; finds long-lost family and friends; shares good news; a forum for pride in achievements; shares pictures; etc. etc.,. etc. I'd like to add some things Facebook does; a forum to harass and bully; a place to advertise who and what you plan to kill; apparently a venue for election tampering; and the list goes on. My point is for all the good things Facebook is noted for there are an equal number of bad things associated with this site.
I frankly don’t care why Zuckerberg was so bored while attending Stanford, that he came up with this idea. Initially, it was supposed to be a dating site. I wonder given all the things that have transpired since if he would second guess his concept. Who am I kidding, no way Zuckerberg would think twice, he's a millionaire many times over.
Facebook is the biggest and actually the beginning of social media. Now there's Twitter, Instagram, texting, I'm sure I'm leaving out some but truthfully since I do not use these venues to communicate, I'm not really familiar with all of them. I just know they are collectively considered social media, which has become an addictive epidemic much like any other addictive behavior.
The majority of Americans use social media and spend their extra minutes or hours scrolling through feeds for entertainment. All you have to do is walk through a mall or watch a group of people, and you will see them all looking down at their cell phones looking for posts of any kind. I'll offer another observation, the last dinner I attended with friends, their teenage kids were texting each other at the table, rather than just talking to each other. When I asked if it was a private joke they said no, they just liked texting.
Recently the American Academy of Pediatrics revealed research that indicated the use of social media in children and teenagers has led to an upswing in depression and bullying behavior. Remember my little eleven-year-old, she once told me that she wanted to die because of something that was said about her on Facebook.
The following outlines some of the various effects social media has had and continues to have on mental health:
Experts and various studies conducted are not certain that internet use in itself is addictive. However, it has been proven that social media can and does lead people into negative habits and thinking. Those who reported heavy use of social media also exhibited numerous signs of addiction:
- Neglect of personal responsibilities
- Concealing the escalating behavior
- Withdrawal symptoms
The research also found that although different personality types, such as extroverts and introverts, used social media in different ways, all types exhibited anxiety when they were not allowed to engage online.
A study conducted several years ago with both adults and teens, indicated that the more people used social media, the less happy they seemed to be. While networks like Facebook provide instant connection, it is not of the same quality or emotional depth as in-person interactions. You can't see that smile or feel that hug through an electronic device. Long-term use of social media in young adults led to intense feelings of social isolation, which is one of the most devastating things that can happen to a person, mentally and emotionally. We all know how tough it is to go through puberty with raging hormones as it is; society doesn't have to add isolation to the mix.
The main reason for perceived social isolation is the comparison factor. People tend to show only the positive parts of their lives on social media, which causes users to fall into a comparison trap and feel envious. It’s a lot harder to hide a negative feeling when you are face to face so sharing things like the following trigger this response:
- Birth of a child
- New job
- New house
This factor is the biggest crock as far as I can tell. Statistics say the average person can manage a network of about 150 friends and acquaintances at any given time. Having a large number of connections on social media does not equal being more social overall. Are all these people really your friends? Any type of relationship requires personal interaction to keep it going. Personally, if I can't hug you, I don't consider you my friend. Virtual friendships often leave people feeling lonely if they do not have emotional support in their offline lives. Loneliness is linked to a number of mental health issues, and it can even lead to an early death.
I am aware that social media keeps family and friends connected over miles and over the years, but it should be balanced. I know it is not always easy to hear Aunt Millie's stories over and over again or smell Grandma's musky house, but suck it up pansy pants we all need human contact. And I don't mean the kind of contact from a damn computer screen, or phone display, or any other kind of viewing device. I mean the sort of contact you can actually feel with your arms or hands, a hug or shake.
There is an exchange of energy when one receives the human touch. This exchange of energy cannot be felt unless someone or something actually touches you. It doesn’t always have to be human touch, it can be the touch of a pet. Anyone who has ever owned a dog knows what I am talking about. When you walk through the door after being gone for some time, they greet you like a rock star, barking with delight, wagging their tails, and licking whatever part of your anatomy they can reach. Try getting that from a computer screen.