Social media and young people's mental health

9 May 2016

Social media

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In this blog, Brayan Herrera, a year 12 student who has been on placement with Mental Health Foundations Policy and Research team from Haggerston School, East London, as part of the Inspire Initiative, discusses the positive and negative impacts of social media on young peoples mental health.

Social media has dramatically changed the way we communicate. We no longer need to wait for newspaper updates, but rather learn from those on our social media feeds about the issues that are most important or appealing to us.

Even more importantly, social media has proven its power in motivating people to action as well as a strong resource to influence social, political and economic policies.

Social media is a powerful tool for young people; it provides a platform for our voices to be heard and enables us to become active citizens and to voice our opinions on the matters that affect or interest us. It also has the power to bring together voices of concern about particular issues – for example when Rachel Beckwith’s birthday wish came true and she was able to raise $1,265,823 to help young children in Africa to have clean water: she was able to raise awareness and convince people to donate to the charity.

This shows the real benefits of social media as it allowed the distribution of an idea that was then recognised by new audiences that might otherwise have missed out. Social media, as well as the internet more broadly, has helped young people to explore new ideas as well as to build resilience as they learn to recognise and manage risks.

While social media can offer many benefits to society, and to young people more specifically, it can be argued that it has also transformed our culture into one of over-sharing. We should ask the question, what impact does this have on our mental health?

Nowadays, we only look at how many pictures we can post or what is the next thing we should post but we don’t look at the effect of social media on our mental health. Taking Facebook and Instagram as examples, they allow us to present our own filtered sense of reality, showing only what we want to show.

This can lead to a person critically comparing their life with other people's and using others' posts as measures for successes and failures in their own life. The impact of this could be catastrophic feelings of low self-esteem, resulting in negative 'I am' statements, such as 'I will never be able to be like that person', or 'I could never do that'.

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.

So are you being adversely affected by social media? Here are some signs to look out for:

  • Low self-esteem.
  • Feeling low when you see other people's images and lifestyle.
  • Envy of others people lives - wishing your life was like someone else's.
  • Finding social media as your first and only choice of activity done for enjoyment.
  • Not having as many face to face conversations with your relatives and friends and feeling disconnected.
  • Being unable to do anything without feeling you need to share it online.

If you think your mental health is being affected by social media, below are three examples of the available support.

Ditch the Label is one of the largest and most ambitious anti-bullying charities, which provides inno-vative support (emotional, psychological and physical) to those who have been affected by bullying through digital and non-digital environment. In addition to this, the website offers world class pio-neering research to keep up to date with the landscape of bullying and tackles wider societal issues that stem from discrimination and prejudice.

Aye Mind is a leading UK mental health charity that campaigns for local and national improvements to mental health. It is founded on the premise that social media, and the media more broadly speaking, offer great potential with regards to improving the nation’s mental health. Aye Mind works closely with the NHS in order to address mental health challenges across society.

The Mental Health Foundation offers a range of self-help guides to inform and encourage a greater understanding of mental health challenges, as well as an A-Z guide of mental health.