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Understanding the effects of social media on mental health

Updated: May 21

India faces a mental health crisis among young people. A staggering number of young Indians are struggling with depression. UNICEF reports that 1 in 7 people aged 15 to 24 experience depression, leading to issues like low self-esteem, concentration problems, and social difficulties. This can even spiral into substance abuse and suicidal thoughts.


One major contributor to this crisis is social media. For most Indians, social media is an ingrained part of daily life. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter are used for communication and connection, with the average person spending 2.4 hours daily on them.  This number jumps even higher for young adults (18-24), with millions actively using Facebook and Instagram alone.


The constant bombardment of content on these platforms has a negative impact. It can expose users to harmful material, alter behavior patterns, and trigger feelings of inadequacy. Cyberbullying is another threat, all of which contribute significantly to mental health issues.


effects of social media on mental health

The positive effects of social media on mental health

Social media often gets a bad rap for its negative impacts, but it can be a powerful tool for connection, self-discovery, and even mental well-being. Here's a closer look at some of the positive effects of social media:

Social connection and community building:

  • Staying connected with friends and family: Social media platforms bridge geographical distances, allowing you to stay in touch with loved ones, share updates, and feel less isolated.

  • Finding communities with shared interests: Do you love travel videos or have a passion for history? Social media allows you to connect with others who share your interests, fostering a sense of belonging and providing opportunities to learn and grow together.

  • Overcoming feelings of isolation: For people who struggle with social anxiety or live in remote areas, social media can be a lifeline, offering a way to connect with others and combat feelings of loneliness.


Self-esteem and identity exploration:

  • Positive self-presentation and validation: Social media allows you to curate your online presence and share your talents, achievements, or creative work. Getting positive feedback and validation online can boost self-esteem and confidence.

  • Sharing creative work and building a following: Social media platforms provide a platform for artists, musicians, writers, and other creatives to showcase their work and connect with a wider audience. Building a following can be incredibly motivating and provide a sense of purpose.

  • Finding role models and positive influences: Social media is full of inspiring people who share their journeys and achievements. Following these positive influences can motivate you, offer guidance, and help you discover new interests or paths in life.


These are some of the positive effects. By using social media consciously and focusing on its strengths, you can cultivate a more positive and enriching online experience.


The negative effects of social media on mental health

While social media offers many benefits, it's important to be aware of its potential downsides. Here's a look at some of the negative effects of social media on mental health:

Social comparison and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out):

  • Unrealistic portrayals of life leading to envy and inadequacy: Social media feeds are often filled with carefully curated highlights, showcasing the "best of" people's lives. This constant comparison can lead to feelings of inadequacy, envy, and dissatisfaction with your own life.

  • Feeling left out due to curated online experiences: The fear of missing out (FOMO) is a common emotion triggered by social media. Seeing others' exciting adventures or social gatherings can make you feel left out and lonely, even if their online portrayal isn't a complete picture.

  • Anxiety about missing important events or trends: The fast-paced nature of social media can fuel anxiety about missing out on important trends or events. This constant pressure to stay updated can be overwhelming and contribute to feelings of inadequacy.


Addiction and time displacement:

  • The rewarding nature of social media and the dopamine cycle: Social media platforms are designed to be engaging. Likes, comments, and shares trigger the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. This can lead to compulsive checking behaviors and difficulty disengaging.

  • Procrastination and neglecting real-life responsibilities: Getting lost in a social media scroll can easily eat away your time. This can lead to procrastination on important tasks and neglecting real-life responsibilities like work, studies, or spending quality time with loved ones.

  • Disrupted sleep patterns and negative impact on physical health: The blue light emitted from screens and the stimulating nature of social media can disrupt sleep patterns. Poor sleep can lead to fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and even physical health problems in the long run.


negative effects of social media on mental health

Cyberbullying and online harassment:

  • The anonymity of online spaces leads to negativity: The anonymity of the internet can embolden some people to engage in bullying or harassment online. This can be incredibly hurtful and damaging to the mental health of the target.

  • The lasting impact of hurtful comments and messages: Cyberbullying and online harassment can leave lasting scars. Even seemingly harmless comments can have a significant impact on someone's self-esteem and emotional well-being.

  • Feeling unsafe and unwelcome online: Being bullied or harassed online can make you feel unsafe and unwelcome in these virtual spaces. This can lead to social withdrawal and feelings of isolation.

The psychological effects of social media on mental health

Social media offers connection and entertainment, but it can also take a significant psychological toll. Here's a deeper dive into three concerning aspects:

Dopamine and addiction:

Social media platforms are designed in a way to keep you hooked. They trigger the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. Every like, comment, or share acts as a mini-reward, reinforcing the behavior of constantly checking for updates. This creates a cycle of seeking validation and approval online, potentially leading to social media addiction.

Sleep disruptions:

The blue light emitted from electronic devices, particularly before bed, disrupts the production of melatonin, a hormone crucial for sleep regulation. Additionally, the stimulating nature of social media content makes it difficult to unwind and transition into sleep mode.  Chronic sleep deprivation caused by social media can lead to fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and even an increased risk of depression and anxiety.


Using social media in a better way

Social media can be a powerful tool for connection and entertainment, but it's important to be mindful of its potential drawbacks. Here are some strategies to help you use social media in a way that enhances your well-being.

Reduce your time spent online:

  • Set time limits: Schedule specific times for checking social media and stick to them. Utilize built-in app timers like digital well-being and website blockers to curb mindless scrolling.

  • Spend less time on platforms: Challenge yourself to gradually reduce your overall social media usage. Find alternative activities you enjoy, whether it's reading, exercising, or spending time in nature.

Manage your consumption habits:

  • Don't scroll first thing in the morning or before bed: Start your day with intention and wind down to sleep peacefully. Avoid the stimulating content of social media right after waking up or before bedtime.

  • Turn off notifications: Constant notifications can be distracting and pull you back into the app. Turn them off and choose to check social media on your own terms.

  • Create a feel-good follow list: Unfollow accounts that leave you feeling negative or inadequate. Instead, follow people and communities that inspire, motivate, or educate you. Fill your feed with content that uplifts your mood and fosters positive emotions.

  • Prioritize real-life interactions: Social media can't replace the power of in-person connections. Invest time in face-to-face interactions. Make plans with friends and family, pursue hobbies that involve social interaction, and prioritize real-world experiences over online validation.


Seek help when needed:

If you find yourself struggling to manage your social media use and it's negatively impacting your mental health, don't hesitate to seek professional help. A therapist can provide guidance and support in developing healthy online habits and coping mechanisms for dealing with the negative aspects of social media.

By implementing these steps, you can transform social media from a time drain into a tool that enhances your life. Balance is key. Take control, prioritize your mental well-being, and curate a social media experience that works for you.


Takeaway

India is experiencing a severe mental health crisis among its youth, with 1 in 7 young Indians aged 15 to 24 suffering from depression, often exacerbated by social media use. While platforms like Facebook and Instagram offer opportunities for connection and community building, they also contribute to negative mental health outcomes through social comparison, cyberbullying, and addiction. The dopamine-driven design of social media fosters compulsive behavior, leading to issues such as disrupted sleep and neglected responsibilities. To mitigate these effects, it is essential to set time limits, manage content consumption, prioritize real-life interactions, and seek professional help when necessary. By adopting mindful social media practices, users can harness its benefits while protecting their mental well-being.


 

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