Social Media and Mental Health

Social media has become a way of life in today’s world. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and plenty of other platforms display our “profiles” and act as the primary mediums by which we communicate. There were nearly 2.5 billion social network users worldwide in 2017, and around 81 percent of Americans had a social media profile last year as well. Although social media has its upsides, such as keeping in contact with distant friends and relatives, it can actually have a negative impact on relationships nearby and even our mental health.

Social Media and Communication

According to some researchers, online social networking can be associated with several psychiatric disorders, including depressive symptoms, anxiety, and low self-esteem. As social media use increases, interpersonal communication with family members and friends seems to decrease. Online access allows a connection with a large number of people, indeed; however these cannot replace face-to-face communication adequately. This alone can lead to feelings of loneliness.

According to a 2016 study, there was reported a significant increase in depression and suicidal thoughts in the past several years. This was seen especially in teens who spent multiple hours a day using some sort of digital device with a screen. It’s possible that, due to the decline in communication with family members as well as reduced interaction within the person’s social circle could be leading to these feelings of self-inflicted isolation and depression. In turn, for those younger, it could have a negative effect on a child’s social development if they are constantly absorbed in social media–or being online in general.

Keeping Up Appearances And Making Comparisons

In a study of a high school population, researchers found a statistically significant positive correlation between depressive symptoms and time spend on Social Networking Sites (SNS’s). Partially responsible could be the false personas that people see and compare themselves to based on portrayed social media profiles. These are often altered, but many see them as reality, which leads to incorrect conclusions regarding physical appearance, educational level, intelligence, moral integrity, and many other characteristics. This perception of others’ lives is believed to be a potential contributor to these depressive symptoms, as users view others as happier, more successful, and may even see life as “not fair.”

What Does Depression Look Like? What Can Be Done?

Depression is a disorder of the brain, so treating depression means treating the brain. Many areas of the brain appear to be involved in depression. The left frontal area of the brain is associated with positive emotions and approach motivation, which is a desire to be involved with other people. The right frontal area is associated with depression and fear, accompanied by motivation to withdraw from and avoid other people. When there is over activation of slow wave in the left frontal area, this creates an imbalance, causing the right frontal area becomes more dominant, thus producing fear and withdrawal from other people. If your brain has too much slow wave in left frontal, you will become depressed easily, withdraw from other people, and may become anxious.

For those with depression, it’s wise to avoid exacerbating one’s negative emotions. If social media is causing you to feed yourself a false impression of the world, thus affecting your own quality of life, limit your usage. It can become an addiction, as the use of digital devices actually releases similar neurotransmitters (dopamine, the happy hormone) that drugs do. If you find it difficult to make these decisions alone, it’s important to seek counseling from a second party, who can help you in an unbiased way. Medication is also an option, along with other alternative therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy–a common type of talk therapy that helps you become aware of your inaccurate or negative thinking. By becoming more aware, you can then challenge situations more clearly and respond them more effectively.

Research has also shown the effects of neurofeedback and biofeedback as treatment for the parts of the brain linked to depression and mental health. The plasticity of the brain allows new neural connections to be formed at any time, so in this treatment founded in neuroscience, professionals can retrain the brain from old, depressed patterns to new pathways that more closely resemble patterns of non-depressed people. That’s the beauty of plasticity–our brains are always able to change.  

We encourage you to never stop changing for the better. That way, you can feel better too.