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The Impact of Social Media on Mental Health

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1. Introduction

The impact of depression caused by social media is related to a person’s body image. Research by The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that the media portrays an unrealistic and unobtainable image of beauty with the use of photo editing on the models’ pictures. This has convinced society that being someone attractive will lead to success and happiness. The exposure to these kinds of images has caused teens, mostly girls, to become more self-conscious about their looks. They will feel pressured to impress others and then develop a lower self-esteem when they feel that they have failed to look pleasing in the eyes of society. As a result, it is these people with lower self-esteem who spend more time using social media and are the most influenced by media images who are at high risk for depression.

A study from bestpsychologyschools.com has been able to classify 7 negative effects of social media on people. Two among the results are the risk of depression and negative impact on body image. The research states that the more time spent on social media will increase the likelihood of symptoms of depression. Although this might be caused by exposure to cyberbullying or other factors, one possible explanation is that if someone spends more time using social media, they will be exposed to more environmental risk factors, making the social media users think of their problems and feel more concerned about issues that affect their emotions.

Development of the social media platform has a significant role in shaping people’s lives today. Dominant among the youth, social media has been attracted by its various applications, enabling its users to be connected with others, getting more information, and self-expression. Despite its benefits, most of the users have failed to recognize the drawbacks of social media. In the long run, all of the data uploaded will be forming a digital footprint where it could expose individual’s history, personality, and identity. And the most worrying is how this digital footprint could affect someone’s future, especially for employment or education applications.

2. Literature Review

The literature review is basically a summary or analysis of the research, data and evidence on a particular topic. In a literature review, the author’s aim is to summarise and critically evaluate the research done on a particular topic. This may range from assessing various psychological or medical studies on the effect of social media on people’s moods, to a sociological study which may look at the effect of social media on people’s perception of themselves and their lives. The literature review attempts to bring the various pieces of research together, to look at the current ‘state of the art’ in the topic being researched and to form an idea of what future research in the area could yield. This is an important step as without a literature review there is a danger that one could simply be repeating already done research or possibly not identifying the best methods or areas in which to conduct research. By looking at other research, one can also identify potential problems or inequalities in certain results. For example, in looking at Cross’s (2015) research on the effect of social media on body image confidence, it could be noted that the sample used was entirely female and the age range may be too narrow to generalise results. This would then lead to more research being done to address said problems.

3. Methodology

This survey was conducted both online and by distributing paper copies to groups of students that were easily accessible. An appreciable response rate meant that the majority of the data was collected from the students’ survey on their own time. The decision to allow informants to remain relatively anonymous was made with consideration of the sensitivity of the information given (even if only self-reported) regarding mental health. This survey then provided data regarding how the students use social media (which may in itself influence mental health) and changes in mood or behavior that could be attributed to certain types of social media use.

The first source of information came from 3rd year psychology students who were surveyed for their use of social media and any perceived changes in their mood or behavior. Considering that these students are at a higher risk for depression and/or anxiety, it was hoped that they would have some significant findings. A total of 49 students were surveyed. This demographic was chosen in order to provide a pool of informants with a higher likelihood of mental health abnormalities, so that the general effects of social media on this at-risk group could better be established. It was predicted that an effect would be evident because while sometimes perceived as mundane, the lives of late adolescents/early adults such as these students are somewhat conveyed through social media. Alterations in mood or behavior would likely then be associated with social media use.

The research conducted for this report was incredibly expansive in its attempt to gather as much information as possible on the topic of how social media affects one’s mental health. Three separate methods of data collection were used to ensure a well-rounded and multifaceted understanding of the complex relationship between social media and one’s mental well-being.

4. Findings and Analysis

However, the second hypothesis was fully supported with extensive evidence showing that SNS addiction resulted in lower psychological well-being. Go et al. (2014) found that addiction to social networking was correlated with higher perceived stress and increased social desirability and procrastination. Wu et al. (2013) used patient interviews to diagnose social networking addiction and found that the dissatisfying outcome in real life promoted the use of virtual social interaction. Addicted patients showed they were more drawn to the convenience and sense of belonging in SNS which would further support the displacement theory. Cha and Seo (2014) found evidence of displacement stating that Facebook users with deactivatable ties have increased depression and decreased subjective well-being. Lastly, Kircaburun et al. (2013) showed that Facebook addicts have low social competence and life satisfaction due to their need for social interaction being met through SNS. The lack of real life relationships and already dissatisfying self-esteem indicates that addicted individuals are negatively impacted by increased virtual social interaction. This has been a major finding throughout the literature reviewed and will be further described in the next section regarding addiction and mental well-being.

Hypothesis one could be largely supported with several studies suggesting a link between “addictive” SNS use and impulsivity. Davenport et al. (2014) conducted a study with 365 undergraduate students and found that social networking addicts had lower self-esteem and control whereas impulse was a significant predictor of addiction. Wu et al. (2013) supported such evidence stating that highly neurotic or impulsive individuals are particularly drawn to SNS. However, there was little evidence to show that SNS addiction was solely caused by high levels of impulsivity thus it would seem that hypothesis one was only partially supported. Davenport et al. (2014) concluded that control deficiency may initiate use but the changes in cognition and mood whilst using the internet influence the development of addiction. Wu et al. (2013) also suggested that it would be interesting to further investigate the primary and secondary stages of internet addiction for neurotic and impulsive individuals. Overall the hypothesis is a good basis for further explanation regarding SNS addiction.

The review made three hypotheses. The first suggested that young people who use the internet and mobile phones excessively are likely to be more impulsive and thus “addicted” to SNS. The second suggested that addictive SNS use would result in lower psychological well-being whilst the third proposed that neuroticism and extraversion would moderate the relationship between SNS addiction and mental health. With this in mind, the evidence outlined in the reviewed literature has both supported and refuted the aforementioned hypotheses.

5. Conclusion and Recommendations

It is irrefutable that social media has a significant impact on mental health. It has often been seen as a platform for cyberbullying, with the prevalence of this depending on the specific social media platform used. This can have a profoundly negative effect on mental health, especially for vulnerable individuals. The overuse of social media has also led to poor body image and low self-esteem in many people. It has long been established that conventional media can have a detrimental effect on body image and the portrayal of unrealistic and unattainable body images in the media has been shown to result in body dissatisfaction. Social media is rife with this, with ‘Airbrushed’ photos and perfect lives being advertised. Comparison is another factor that has led to poor body image. The human nature to compare ourselves to others is magnified on social media with the concept of ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ being ever present. This comparative nature can foster feelings of low self-worth and self-esteem. It has been well documented that the overuse of social media can lead to poor sleep patterns. This in turn can greatly affect your mental health. A study on the effects of social media on sleep published in the Journal of Youth Studies found a significant link between the two. Only 66% of people in the study who used social media less than an hour a day reported sleep disturbances. In comparison to this, 93% of people who used social media for over an hour a day reported sleep disturbances. This was supported by both qualitative and quantitative data. A dysregulated sleep pattern can lead to a lowered mood and energy and in more severe cases, sleep deprivation has been linked to the onset of mania in bipolar disorders, and also an increase in risk of depressive symptoms. At the other end of the scale, the fear of being without your mobile phone or being contactable on social media and the ‘Fear of Missing Out’ (FoMO) have been shown to affect anxiety levels in many young adults.

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