Many of us use at least one social media platform to connect with friends, family or global communities. According to Roy Morgan in 2019, 83% of Australians over 14 used Facebook at least once over a four week period. Despite so many of us using social media on a regular basis, research into the impact of social media on our mental health is still a relatively emerging field.
Does social media have a negative impact on our mental health?
Depression and loneliness
While it’s still an emerging field, some research suggests there is a link between social media use and feelings of depression and loneliness.
A 2018 study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology found that when people reduced their use of social media to just 30 minutes a day (spread across three platforms), their overall mental wellbeing improved. This study found that feelings of depression and loneliness in particular declined.
Using social media also often results in an increase in social comparison as many people post about their achievements, successes and positive life events on platforms like Instagram and Facebook. Even if you’re aware the content is highly curated, it’s easy to start making comparisons with your own life as you’re scrolling through a feed. It’s also common to experience feelings of missing out on social situations.
Social media also increases the risk of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying happens when someone deliberately and repeatedly hurts another person via the internet. It can include hurtful or threatening comments, sharing of photos or videos intended to embarrass you or someone posing as you online.
If someone is experiencing cyberbullying, they can feel a range of emotions including fear, shame and anxiety.
If you or someone you know is experiencing cyberbullying, the Australian Government eSafety website may be able to help.
Exposure to inappropriate content
For children and teenagers, using social media can mean they’re more likely to be exposed to inappropriate content including violent, aggressive or sexual images and videos.
If you’re a parent of a child or teenager and have concerns about what they’re being exposed to online, the eSafety website offers support and advice for how to keep your child safe online.
Should you stop using social media?
According to the Black Dog Institute, there’s no evidence to support the idea that a social media detox benefits our mental health. Depending on your personal circumstances, you might find it helpful to stop scrolling for period of time.
If you feel like you’re in a vulnerable place emotionally, it might be a good idea to take a step back from social media. You might feel this way if you’ve recently experienced a relationship breakup or experienced a difficult life event.
How can you use social media to support your mental wellbeing?
Social media can be a great way to stay connected with people that live overseas or that you’re unable to see in person. It can be a tool to make and maintain friendships, share interests and stay up to date with news and current affairs. It’s can also be a way to connect to global communities that you may not otherwise have access to.
Dr Bridianne O’Dea, a research fellow at the Black Dog Institute, suggests the following six ways you can use social media to support your mental health.
- 1. Work out if social media is strengthening or weakening your relationships
Depending on your personal situation, you may find social media enhances and supports your relationships with others. This may well be the case if it helps you maintain relationships with people overseas. Yet, there may also be relationships in your life that work better when you meet with the person face-to-face.
- 2. Limit social media use to certain times in the day
You might find it helpful to only use social media during set time periods in the day. This way you’ll be able to stay more present during face-to-face social interactions.
- 3. Track your usage
Many smartphones allow you to track how much time you’re spending on individual apps on your phone. It might be good idea to turn this on for your social media apps to find out how much of your time it’s really taking up.
- 4. Limit phone use at night
You may have heard that using your phone just before bed can negatively impact your sleep. If you often feel the urge to check social media before bed, you might want to try leaving your phone in another room. If you use your phone as an alarm clock, you can always invest in an alarm clock, so you no longer need it at your bedside.
- 5. Track how you feel
It’s important to monitor how you feel when you look at posts or follow certain social media accounts. If you regularly feel sad, disappointed or ashamed, it may be time to unfollow the account or take a break from social media for a while.
- 6. Check your content before you post
It’s also important to think about how the content you post will affect others. It’s a good idea not to post content that is stigmatising or hateful.
All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified healthcare professional.