Is your use of social media damaging your mental wellbeing?

It feels as if everyone is on social media these days.  There is a vast array of networks which allow us to share our thoughts with an ever widening audience at the click of a button.  Of course, there are benefits.  Social mobility continues to increase and our closest school friends could now be thousands of miles away.  Facebook, Instagram and Twitter allows us to share news and continue to participate in their lives in a completely new way.  We don’t even have to buy a stamp to stay in touch.

Unfortunately, widening access also has a downside.

Does social media lower our self-esteem?

Our use of social media inevitably leads to increased awareness of other people’s lives.  What would once have been village gossip can now be broadcast across the world.  It’s interesting to note that individual use of social media is becoming increasingly polarised.  This is particularly true of Facebook and Twitter.  Some will use these platforms as a way to air their grievances.  Others will present an idealised version of their lives.

The impact of this seems to be a heightened sense of social isolation.  Several studies have found that the more time a person spends on social media, the more isolated they believe themselves to be.  It’s easy to understand why.  Before social media an evening alone at home may have found us wondering whether everyone else was out having fun.  Now we can see the evidence on Facebook.

Studies have also shown that comparing ourselves to others makes us feel bad.  In real life this only tends to happen when we believe other people’s lives are better than ours.  On Facebook this doesn’t seem to apply.  Even comparing ourselves to people who are having a hard time makes us feel worse.

Of course, we may be able to overcome this by retaining a sense of perspective.  If we share the best version of our lives, others must be doing the same.

Growing up with social media

If you’re over 40 it’s likely that you remember a time before social media.  However, for younger generations it’s now the norm.

The Royal Society for Public Health recently carried out a survey in collaboration with the Young Health Movement to investigate the impact of social media on the mental health of young people aged between 14 and 24.  The survey found that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat all had a negative impact on feelings of self-worth.  In particular, Instagram was considered to be the most damaging.

It appears likely that the platforms which focused most on image caused the most harm.  This is possibly because they cause young people to compare themselves to an impossibly high standard and find themselves wanting.  Online bullying can also mean that victims find themselves without an escape route.

This can exacerbate feelings of anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.  There is also concern that this could lead to an increase in eating disorders and even suicide.

The way forward

There is no easy way to reduce the impact of social media on our mental health, but there are positive steps we can take.

The studies have shown that strengthening our network in the real world reduces the negative impact of social media.  Ironically, our use of these platforms makes it easier for us to access local activities and begin to feel part of a community.

Do you feel that your social media use is having a negative impact on your wellbeing?  If you need to start a new kind of conversation, please get in touch.