Social media: good or bad for mental health?

6 January 2017

Social media’s nothing new to many of us. Over 40 million adults in the UK use the internet everyday (that’s 82% of adults in the UK!). That’s an increase of over 1 million people from 2015! 63% of us use social networking sites everyday, including almost a quarter of people aged over 65. All this shows technology isn’t just for young people.

Whether that’s Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or any other social network, these forms of communication are more popular than ever. In theory, social networks such as Facebook have been developed to encourage communication and interaction between users. Technology and social networking has undoubtedly changed the way we live. But we can't seem to agree on whether it is good or bad.

Every day in the media there are stories reporting the horrors of social media (which are, coincidentally, largely accessed via social media). Yet most of us continue to tweet, scroll our news feeds and put fancy filters over our photos to show our friends irrespective of these worries.

The research

Research has done little to settle the argument over whether social media helps or hinders our connections in 'real life'. Numerous papers, reviews and blogs have debated the impact of social media on our mental health, and the potential uses of social media in suicide prevention and depression interventions. And the jury's still out.

Our Mental Elf blog reviewed the use of social media and mental health. We were unable to conclude how much these sites impact on our mental health. The mixed findings within the research represent the complexity related to these issues.

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the big question. However, while opinion is divided it’s undeniable that online technologies can be used to reach the most vulnerable and help to address the issue of stigma in seeking treatment and engaging with it. Where regional mental health services are unavailable, or travel is too costly, online technologies may be a way to reach those most in need who can be overlooked.

There are many potential uses of online technologies to help address mental health where traditional methods have been unable to. These include digital self-help services for young people, access to interventions remotely for individuals who are unable to travel, and access to information in a non-stigmatising way.. Therefore understanding these interactions and harnessing them is a way forward, as well as a way out of the debate of social networks being friend or foe. The one thing that research needs to consider is how we can provide these services safely and effectively!

The eMEN project

To create and realise this change, we are part of a transnational platform for digital mental health innovation and implementation, along with organisations across North West Europe (the eMEN project). Project partners are key stakeholders in the field of digital mental health and have a broad EU network to help develop and progress the conversation of digital mental health.

The aim is to improve the quality, reach and development of new testing methods for current digital mental health provision. It acknowledges that one of the issues is addressing the unmet needs of people using digital mental health technologies and aims to tackle this.

One thing that can be concluded is that social networks and online technologies are not going away. Therefore, practitioners and researchers must acknowledge and harness them to understand how patients and the public can best use digital technology as part of their treatment, or to understand how internet usage may be affecting their mental health.

More information

Find out more about the eMEN digital mental health project

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