In recent years, the increase in the use of social networks and its impact on the mental health of young people has become a subject of particular relevance and concern. Along these lines, a series of reviews and studies have emerged regarding the role that social networks play in the health and physical and mental safety of children and adolescents.
Social networks Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat, could be responsible for the deterioration of the balance and mental well-being of young people. The result is a poor self-image, loneliness, depression, or even a lack of sleep.
Young people cite trouble sleeping, bullying, feelings of loneliness, or symptoms of depression.
According to a British study conducted in 2017 by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), more than 90% of young people between the ages of 14 and 24 have an account on at least one of the subsequent social networks: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat or YouTube.
Rendering to the same study, rates of insomnia and mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety for the same age group have increased by about 70% in the past 25 years. So social media seems to have a very detrimental effect on the mental health of the hyper-connected new generation, but why?
Below we shall be explaining how social media harms our mental health and how we can make better use out of social media.
- The addictive nature of social media.
Network executives are partly to blame for the deteriorating mental health of their users. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, and Twitter are designed to create an extremely addictive consumer experience.
Some studies have found an indication that young people can develop an addiction to the use of social networks. This addiction is estimated to affect around 5% of adolescents and potentially can be more addictive than alcohol and cigarette consumption.
- Sleeping disorders.
Some qualitative studies have revealed that dependence on social media can have consequences such as problems in the sleep habits of young people, often to the detriment of their performance in school and during exams. A predominant aspect of in-network addiction is compulsive checking, defined as the “impulse to verify messages and stay updated,” and which is related to the phenomenon known as “fear of missing something” or FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). According to a survey conducted in 2016, FOMO has severe consequences on sleep habits (loss of sleep hours due to the use of nets, difficulty relaxing at night after using them, etc.). This negative impact on sleep affects mental well-being: sleep loss from addiction to social media can lead to poorer mental health, and this can lead to sleep loss and heavy use of social media.)
- Useless comparisons.
Persistently comparing yourself to other people’s lives can affect mental health. A wide variety of studies have indicated that the use of social networks is strongly associated with negative self-esteem and self-image. Specifically, the “idealization” of body image has a detrimental impact on self-esteem, mainly among young women, to the magnitude that 9 out of 10 adolescents say they are not satisfied with their bodies.
The dissemination of manipulated images on social media platforms can perpetuate unrealistic expectations, detrimentally impacting self-esteem among some users when they fail to meet these lofty standards. The so-called “extreme communities” are at risk of trivializing and, by extension, normalizing, and authentic health problems, such as suicide and self-harm.
- Envy, depression, and anxiety.
The feelings of envy that Facebook can arouse have been the subject of a series of investigations. These feelings primarily focus on the impact of “passive monitoring” on social networks (that is, users who do not usually publish but use the network to “monitor” other users, which can lead to feelings of envy). Some studies have acknowledged associations between this problematical use of social media and depression, which is exacerbated by increased usage.
The concept of “Fear of being lost” has come to the fore as a psychological phenomenon with multifaceted implications for the mental well-being of young people. We can describe as a generalized apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences in which one is not participating, and characterized by a desire to be continually connected to what others are doing. Thus, the “Fear of being lost” is inversely related to the intensity of the use of social networks.
The need to be continuously connected with what other people are doing (to avoid getting lost) can cause feelings of anxiety, incompetence, and anguish, feelings that gets worse with the passing time because people are constantly aware of the activities of their friends and family.
- Substitution of social interaction.
Some studies show that young people who exhibit traits of social anxiety use social networks for self-presentation purposes. These networks provide opportunities for people with social anxiety to meet unmet needs, resolving an inability – often significant – to socialize outside the network. In turn, this discourages social interactions outside the network, “in the real world,” aggravating loneliness problems and affecting the mental well-being of young people.
Cyberbullying is the type of online harm that most bothers young people. About 85% of the social media users have been victims report being upset by it. Several studies have shown robust associations between cyberbullying and mental health, specifically in terms of suicide and self-harm.
No natural breaks.
Our media experience before the social media era was limited. Our media experience is now limitless.
Before, when it came to reading the news or listening to a program, for example, our media experience came to an end.
- To read the news, we opened the paper newspaper and finished reading on the last page.
- To listen to a program, you would turn on the television and stop listening after the program was over.
- Now those natural pauses in our media consumption that acted as stop signals for our brains are gone.
- Reading the news on Facebook or Snapchat is a limitless experience thanks to the “infinite scroll,” which allows you to read endlessly.
- Listening to just one show or video on YouTube or Facebook, or watching just one “story” on Instagram or Snapchat has become almost impossible thanks to auto play.
- As soon as a video or “story” ends, another starts automatically.
It’s hardly surprising then that the creation of these platforms was to keep us riveted to our screens, cause us severe sleep disturbances, which in turn can lead to all kinds of other mental and physical health issues.
Social media users should be informed of their overuse.
Social networks should be empowered and warn their users of the dangers of spending so many hours on their platforms.
It is why the researchers who carried out the RSHP study are asking the UK government to force social networks to integrate “pop-ups” into their platforms to notify their users of their consumption time. It is also necessary to educate users directly so that they can make changes in their lifestyle related to the use of the telephone and social networks.
The majority of people don’t pay attention to the amount of time they spend on social media each day and often underestimate it.
It is, therefore, vital to educate social media users, especially young people, to be more aware of their social media usage time and to follow it better.
The correlation between the almost universal use of social media among adolescents and young adults and the dramatic rise in mental health disorders among them in recent years is undeniable. It, therefore, seems appropriate to devote efforts to creating laws that would further regulate the conduct of social media giants such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Snapchat. Equally important, however, is to make efforts to create educational resources and tools to teach the ever-connected new generation how to make healthy and productive use of social media for more advantages than disadvantages.
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