‘Like’ it or not, using social media can cause anxiety, depression, and other health challenges.
Many experts have described a rise in sleeplessness, loneliness, worry, and dependence among teenagers and adults— a rise that coincides with the release of the first iPhone 10 years ago. One study found that 48 percent of teens who spend five hours per day on an electronic device have at least one suicide risk factor, compared to 33 percent of teens who spend two hours a day on an electronic device. We’ve all heard anecdotes, too, of teens being reduced to tears from the constant communication and comparisons that social media invites.
In fact, it now has its own name: social media anxiety disorder, as reported by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).
Have we created this mental health disorder?
According to the Pew Research Center, 69% of adults and 81% of teens in the U.S. use social media. This puts a large amount of the population at an increased risk of feeling anxious, depressed, or ill over their social media use.
When people look online and see they’re excluded from an activity, it can affect thoughts and feelings and can affect them physically. Likewise, seeing “perfect” bodies in swimsuits or not receiving the same amount of “likes” as someone else can cause distress and physical illness.
Social media use can affect users’ physical health even more directly. Researchers know the connection between the mind and the gut can turn anxiety and depression into nausea, headaches, muscle tension, and tremors.
Research and Statistics
In the United States alone, 72 percent of people reported using some type of social media in 2021, according to Pew Research Center.
Increasing studies and surveys show that the world of social media can have devastating effects on users’ mental health. Survey findings show a 25% increase in suicide attempts among teenagers in the U.S. alone.
A 2021 study confirms this effect (of social media and mental health). The researchers reported that while social media use had a minimal impact on boys’ risk of suicide, girls who used social media for at least 2 hours each day from the age of 13 years had a higher clinical risk of suicide as adults.
Additionally, a recent study suggested that teenagers who use social media for more than 3 hours daily are more likely to experience mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, aggression, and antisocial behavior.
Another study also found that high social media usage increases rather than decreases feelings of loneliness. It also reported that reducing social media use helps people feel less lonely and isolated and improves their well-being.
The Pew Research Center’s survey of U.S. teens determined that one in six teenagers have experienced at least one of six different forms of abusive behavior online:
Spreading false rumors (32%)
Receiving unsolicited explicit images (25%)
Having their activities and whereabouts tracked by someone other than a parent (21%)
Someone making physical threats (16%)
Having explicit images of them shared without their consent (7%)
The survey found that 90% of teens believe online harassment is a problem for people their age, and 63% identify it as a “major problem.” The teens who think social media is generally a negative influence say it increases bullying and rumor-mongering (27%), or it harms relationships and makes them less meaningful (17%). However, only a small number believe social media use could “lead to psychological issues or drama.”
Symptoms of social media anxiety disorder
The symptoms of social media anxiety disorder, as described by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), include the following:
Stopping to check social media in the middle of a conversation
Spending more than six hours each day using social media
Lying about the amount of time spent on social media
Withdrawing from family and friends
Failing in attempts to cut back on social media use
Neglecting or losing interest in school, work, and favorite activities
Experiencing severe nervousness, anxiety, or withdrawal symptoms when not able to check social media
Having an overwhelming desire to share on social media feeds
Suggestions For Protecting Your Mental Health
Here are a few suggestions to maintain your mental health while using social media from the National Alliance on Mental Health:
Consider what sites and profiles you visit; if they make you feel bad, unfollow them.
Before you post something about yourself or someone else, consider if you would make this comment in an in-person setting.
Remember that what you post will be very hard to take back or remove
Remember that what people post, or what you see, may not be honest or real presentations of their experiences or lives
Leave or unfollow a profile/page/site if it is making you feel worse
Report posts that are hurtful or make you worried
Tell an adult you trust — a parent, teacher, or school counselor — immediately if a friend is posting content that worries you or suggests that they may be in a serious situation.
We may not need to quit social media entirely, but limiting our time on social media considerably, and reconnecting with friends and family in real life, is definitely the way to go.