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On Love-Hating Social Media, Even If It’s Bad for Mental Health

This convo may seem as groundbreaking as florals for spring, but who can tire of reading more more more about it? (Another part of the problem?) Here’s what science says—along with your fellow Mental-ites.
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Facebook gets a bad rap for oh so many things, from aiding Russian political operatives to inducing depression. At least on the latter front, it’s a little hard to tell whether it’s the fault of the platform itself—or how it gets used. And while researchers have been examining social media and mental health for years now, the results are always a bit “it might” and “it may.” 

A June 2020 review of 16 studies boiled it down this way: “Although the results of the study were not completely consistent, this review found a general association between social media use and mental health issues.” A few highlights: Social can offer the lesbian and gay communities a space to find support; women are more “addicted” than men; those who read, vs create, posts can feel depressed; “social media envy” is tied to anxiety and depression levels; and the more you’re on social, the more likely you’re reporting “symptoms of psychopathology.”

To that end, a May 2022 study published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking (yes, such a journal exists) wondered: What would happen to mental well-being if people spent less time on the socials? Turns out, a one-week break from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok led to significant improvements in depression and anxiety.

So naturally, I polled you on Instagram (#irony). Your thoughts were insightful and, well, thoughtful. (Are all thoughts thoughtful? We’ll save that for another story.) Take note, scientists.

You Said: “Being one of the last millennials (1995), I have very clear memories off both the pre- and post-social-media-saturated eras and I distinctly recognize FOMO as a relatively new phenomenon in response to live relays of each other’s experiences, but really can’t condemn social media alone for contributing to feelings of isolation. My sense of social isolation was developed by school lunches spent alone in the library at age 9, long before my friends could Snapchat me from the girls’ bathrooms. I do believe that as with any new and poorly understood concepts, there is a particular drive to emphasize the negative aspects. But social media is certainly not all bad, and as with most things—from foods to political ideologies—gentleness, a good understanding of our own and each other’s needs, and moderation seem to be the key here.”

You Said: “Comparison is very negative, but storytelling can be a positive.”

You Said: “At a recent Dove self-esteem workshop for 6th grade girls, when asked what they think of social media, all the girls said they want it to go away. They believe it breeds bullying and low self-esteem, and they’ve seen what it’s done to the generations above them and want no part of it. Personally, I find it concerning that being active on social media now equates to being active in life, work, friendships, etc. The pressure to share and engage—and the feeling of inadequacy when you don’t have anything good to share on social—perpetuates unhealthy values. Just as money can’t buy happiness, 500,000 followers does not buy self-worth. But may people believe it does.”

You Said: “I see the good and the bad. A local 12-year-old killed herself because she could not get away from the onslaught of negative and downright mean girls who actually told her to kill herself. But my daughter reaches out to friends in time of need (depressive episodes) and gets the initial support she needs. Social media can be a weapon—choose wisely.”

You Said: “It’s  a fine line. You choose what you tune into on social media and so you have some degree of control on how much you buy into it. For example, my feed is filled with female empowerment and uplifting, supportive people who are real and actually care about the messages they send out. You can choose. It doesn’t resolve the fact that it’s 24/7 and addictive.”

You Said: “From my perspective as an individual who suffers from depression, if I am in a dark place, SM only makes it worse, and makes it harder to dig out from where I am. No amount o f positivity or encouragement helps—all I can see at those times is how much better than I everyone in the world is. While that’s already a thought, the images that you see on SM tend to give my thoughts something concrete to gather around. When I’m not in that place, I love SM. I love the glimpses into everyone’s lives, and don’t really feel the FOMO or anything. I’ve been more mindful about stepping away when I’m feeling down, or scrolling super fast!”

You Said: “Both. Good in that you can find support groups for various things in your life, but bad because of constant news, opinions, negativity, etc.”

You Said: “It depends on who you are exposing yourself to. I also ask myself my. motivations for posting so I can gauge my mental health. I describe myself as ‘selfie-averse’ because I just don’t like seeing pictures of myself. Seeing all the best of people’s lives on social media makes me feel inadequate about mine. At the same time, the point where I knew I was really in a dark place was when I wanted to disappear from social media, because I really wanted to disappear from life altogether. There is a connection and encouragement found here as well, as long as you are soaking in the right content. @club_mental is a perfect example of a positive influencer.”

You Said: “It’s beneficial with updates of what is on trend and ideas of what to wear. On the other hand, it can be bad when you lose your self-esteem and feel less of a person.. So it’s really how you look at it.”

You Said: “People are only seeing what you show them. The rest is perception.”

You Said: “Can foster community/breed negativity. Create love and support/cause pack mentality. Can make people less alone/perpetuate isolation. There’s definitely good and bad.”

You Said: “Everything in moderation chu know?”

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