Social Media vs Mental Health

-Exploring the truth behind Sad fishing and how it's affecting our generation.

It’s been a long day and you’ve just poured yourself that glass of wine that you’ve craved all day.

You paw through the TV Guide and gruntle to yourself at the concerning lack of exciting or even acceptable TV to watch.

You automatically reach to your side and find your trusted sleek companion.

Your finger seamlessly and without thought hits Instagram.

Mindlessness, you scroll for what appears to be 30mins.

Oh, Jennifer bought a house in Chelsea today...Oh gosh... it looks good! I wish we could afford a house like that’ - you think to yourself.

You continue to scroll down.

‘Oh... and there she is again flashing those abs…. goodness…why does she always look so well kept? Why can’t I look like that?’.

It's all too easy to forget, when scrolling through our social media feeds, that what we see isn't always what it seems.

Discussing the myth of a perfect life on social media, and how what we see online can impact our own feelings of self-esteem and self-worth, has been big news recently thanks to stars like Selena Gomez speaking out on the illusion our never-ending feeds create.

"I find myself seeing the world through a screen and not my eyes so I'm taking this opportunity of me not having to be anywhere or do anything to travel the world and see everything I missed," - Ed Sheeran wrote on Instagram before taking a year-long break from social media.

‘A new social media trend called ‘sadfishing’ is harming the mental health of children and leaving them vulnerable to grooming online’ a new survey from the BBC reports.

‘Sadfishing’ is when someone posts about an emotional problem in an attempt to attract attention, sympathy or hook an audience.

The phenomenon has been driven by celebrities who have been accused of posting exaggerated claims about their emotional problems to generate sympathy and draw people onto their sites.

The latest celebrity to share their mental wellbeing is Justin Bieber, who told his 119 million Instagram followers:

“It’s hard to get out of bed in the morning when you are overwhelmed with your life.” - He said that although he had lots of “money, clothes, cars and awards” he still felt “unfulfilled”.

Human beings are social creatures. We need the companionship of others to thrive in life, and the strength of our connections has a huge impact on our mental health and happiness. Being socially connected to others can ease stress, anxiety, and depression, boost self-worth, provide comfort and joy, prevent loneliness, and even add years to your life. On the flip side, lacking strong social connections can pose a serious risk to your mental and emotional health.

In today’s world, many of us rely on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube, and Instagram to find and connect with each other.

These online platforms have allowed people in every corner of the world to be connected 24/7. By 2021, it is forecast that there will be around 3 billion active monthly users of social media. From the statistics alone, it’s clear that social media has become an integral (and to a large extent, unavoidable) part of our lives.

While each has its benefits, it’s important to remember that social media can never be a replacement for real-world human connection. It requires in-person contact with others to trigger the hormones that alleviate stress and make you feel happier, healthier, and more positive. Ironically for a technology that’s designed to bring people closer together, spending too much time engaging with social media can actually make you feel lonely and isolated—and exacerbate mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

One implication of social media’s rapid rise, that of its relationship with young people’s mental health, has gathered a significant amount of attention in recent years. Research has created a wide evidence-base supporting an association between social media use and mental health, and although still emerging, new evidence has painted a broad picture of the main impacts. The popularity of social media as a medium of communication for young people needs to be carefully examined, as it may indeed come to play a more detrimental role than we might have thought.

So-called ‘social media addiction’ has been referred to by a wide variety of studies and experiments. It is thought that addiction to social media affects around 5% of young people and was recently described as potentially more addictive than alcohol and cigarettes. Its ‘addictive’ nature owes to the degree of compulsivity with which it is used. The ‘urge’ to check our social media may be linked to both instant gratification (the need to experience fast, short term pleasure) and dopamine production (the chemical in the brain associated with reward and pleasure). The desire for a ‘hit’ of dopamine, coupled with a failure to gain instant gratification, may prompt users to perpetually refresh their social media feeds.

Social media can also heighten anxiety by increasing users’ ability to keep up to date with the activities of their social circles. The popular concept of Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) refers to ‘a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from one is absent and is characterized by the desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing’.

FOMO has been linked to intensive social media use and is associated with lower mood and life satisfaction. We have become more aware of what we are missing out on, for example, seeing photos of friends having a good time together in our absences. ‘Always on’ communication technology can cause feelings of anxiety, loneliness and inadequacy through highlighting these activities, compelling users to stay continually engaged and up to date due to fear of not being involved. Humans are social beings who desire group interaction, therefore perceived exclusion can have damaging psychological impacts.

From another angle, online platforms may also have the potential to damage mental wellbeing through promoting unreasonable expectations. Social media has been linked to poor self-esteem and self-image through the advent of image manipulation on photo sharing platforms. In particular, the notion of the ‘idealized body image’ has arguably been detrimental to self-esteem and image, especially that of young women. The 24/7 circulation of easily viewable manipulated images promotes and entrenches unrealistic expectations of how young people should look and behave. When these expectations are inevitably not met, the impact on self-esteem can be damaging, to the disturbing extent that the Royal Society of Public Health recently found 9 in 10 young females say that they are unhappy with the way they look.

While virtual interaction on social media doesn’t have the same psychological benefits as face-to-face contact, there are still pros and cons to everything.

Social media can enable you to:

· Communicate and stay up to date with family and friends around the world.

· Find new friends and communities; network with other people who share similar interests or ambitions.

· Join or promote worthwhile causes; raise awareness on important issues.

· Seek or offer emotional support during tough times.

· Find vital social connection if you live in a remote area, for example, or have limited independence, social anxiety, or are part of a marginalized group.

· Find an outlet for your creativity and self-expression.

· Discover (with care) sources of valuable information and learning.

Since it’s a relatively new technology, there’s little research to establish the long-term consequences, good or bad, of social media use. However, multiple studies have found a strong link between heavy social media and an increased risk for depression, anxiety or loneliness. Social media may promote negative experiences such as:

· Inadequacy about your life or appearance.

· Fear of missing out (FOMO).

· Isolation

· Depression and anxiety

· Cyberbullying

· Self-absorption.

· Low Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem is not the only result of the high level of social media use. There has also been a study conducted by psychologist Dr Paula Durlofsky, which was done with the aim of digging into how to establish a healthy balance between real-time relationships and virtual connections. This study demonstrated a correlation between social media use and depression.

Body dysmorphia is another area, which has been affected by social media. A study conducted by Dr Bryony Bamford indicated that high amounts of time spent on Facebook may lead to body image insecurity, which can also lead to depression.

“The less you are connected with human beings in a deep, empathic way, the less you’re really getting the benefits of a social interaction,” points out Alexandra Hamlet, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. “The more superficial it is, the less likely it’s going to cause you to feel connected, which is something we all need.”

A 2018 University of Pennsylvania study found that reducing social media use to 30 minutes a day resulted in a significant reduction in levels of anxiety, depression, loneliness, sleep problems, and FOMO. But you don’t need to cut back on your social media use that drastically to improve your mental health. The same study concluded that just being more mindful of your social media use can have beneficial results on your mood and focus.

While 30 minutes a day may not be a realistic target for many of us, we can still benefit from reducing the amount of time we spend on social media. For most of us, that means reducing how much we use our smartphones. The following tips can help:

1. Use an app to track how much time you spend on social media each day. Then set a goal for how much you want to reduce it by.

2. Turn off your phone at certain times of the day, such as when you’re driving, in a meeting, at the gym, having dinner, spending time with offline friends, or playing with your kids. Don’t take your phone with you to the bathroom.

3. Don’t bring your phone or tablet to bed. Turn devices off and leave them in another room overnight to charge.

4. Disable social media notifications. It’s hard to resist the constant buzzing, beeping, and dinging of your phone alerting you to new messages. Turning off notifications can help you regain control of your time and focus.

5. Limit checks. If you compulsively check your phone every few minutes, wean yourself off by limiting your checks to once every 15 minutes. Then once every 30 minutes, then once an hour. There are apps that can automatically limit when you’re able to access your phone.

6. Try removing social media apps from your phone so you can only check Facebook, Twitter and the like from your tablet or computer. If this sounds like too drastic a step, try removing one social media app at a time to see how much you really miss it.

It worth noting that there are some teenagers / adults who aren’t successful in connecting with peers offline, because they are isolated geographically or don’t feel accepted in their schools and local communities. For those kids, electronic connection can be lifesaving. It’s being mindful of this and understanding the truth behind our generations Social Media’s craze.

Peace and love to you all,