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How Social Media Can Affect Mental Health

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Many teenagers and young adults spend more time than they should on social media, and a quick notification check can quickly turn into a half-hour of mindless scrolling through the latest posts. While social media can make communication easier among peers, excessive social media usage can lead to a range of adverse effects on a person's mental health.

In the article below, we describe how social media can be dangerous for young people's mental health. We then share ways that young people can improve their relationships with social media and deal with any negative mental health impacts that social media may cause. We also share a self-assessment quiz that people can use to examine their social media habits, and we discuss available treatment options at behavioral health hospitals.

Ways that social media usage can harm mental health

Social media companies invest significant resources into increasing users' time on their platforms. The more time users spend on a social media company's platform, the more opportunities the company has to sell advertising space and increase revenues. While increased user time on the social media platform may benefit the company's bottom line, users who spend hours per day on social media can experience harmful consequences.

One way social media usage can harm mental health is by lowering a person's self-esteem and contributing to body-image issues. These issues are particularly prevalent among girls and young women. Users may see images of models on social media and compare their own bodies to the images they see. Many of these images represent unobtainable body types, and in many cases, editors have enhanced social media images with tools like Photoshop. Users then deal with low self-esteem after unfairly comparing themselves to what they see online.

Another way that social media can harm mental health is by leading to cases of depression. Low self-esteem and body-image issues that result from social media use can contribute to a person's depression. Other aspects of social media use that can contribute to depression include decreased face-to-face social interaction, decreased sleeping hours, and decreased physical activity. In addition to contributing to new cases of depression, social media usage can intensify symptoms in existing cases of depression.

Excessive social media use can also contribute to a person's anxiety. Users may experience fear-of-missing-out (FOMO) and feel obliged to check their phones for updates frequently. This experience may produce anxiety when a person feels they must continuously be online to not miss any events or conversations with peers. Further, the frequent buzz and ping of social media notifications on one's smartphone can be an anxiety-provoking experience for some teens and young adults.

Social media during the COVID-19 pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have had to adjust their lives significantly. Social distancing precautions and lockdowns have resulted in many people canceling in-person events and opting for virtual communication mediums. For many teens and young adults, these changes include virtual classes that have adversely impacted their learning routines.

These changes have led to teens and young adults relying heavily on social media to keep up with their friends. While social media does allow people to keep in contact virtually during the pandemic, reliance on social media for communications can intensify the negative mental health impacts we describe above. Additionally, text and video-based communication on social media are often less beneficial for one's mental health than in-person interaction.

Take our self-assessment quiz on social media behavior

It can be challenging for teens and young adults to assess their relationships with social media objectively. Many people who spend excessive amounts of time on social media each day see their behavior as normal, and they often do not see a link between their social media habits and mental health.

To help people better understand social media's impact on their lives, we have developed a self-assessment quiz. The quiz features ten statements that individuals may either agree or disagree with regarding their own lives. Individuals then rank each statement, and we provide custom responses to each person's score.

To take our self-assessment quiz, use the scale below to respond to the following statements:

__ I look for affirmation or acceptance from others.

__ What others post negatively affects my mood.

__ I feel fearful or anxious without using social media for long periods.

__ I feel a desire to change the way I look or dress based on influencers I follow.

__ I feel sad or depressed after being on social media.

__ Spending time on social media affects my daily motivation

__ I am teased and made fun of on social media.

__ I feel sad when people do not comment and like my posts.

__ I feel easily agitated and annoyed with close friends and family members.

__ I need to go on social media every day.

Next, tally up your answers to the above statements, and read our response below for your final score.

  • 50-40 points. Sometimes, people need help changing their relationships with social media. While there are many things that people cannot control in life, it is possible to limit one's interaction with social media. If you cannot control your social media usage and it is negatively impacting your life, reach out to our team at Las Encinas Hospital and ask about our inpatient programs for teens.
  • 39-30 points. Scores in this range likely indicate that a person can benefit from decreased social media usage. An alarming social media and mental health statistic is that the average time a person spends on social media is 136 minutes a day. People can decrease social media use by disabling notifications and not bringing their phones to bed. A goal to work towards is spending less than an hour a day on social media.
  • 29-20 points. If you scored in this range, you can benefit from reduced social media use, too. Try taking easy steps to reduce social media use, including putting phones away when meeting with friends and family.
  • 20-5 points. Great job! You have been able to keep a healthy relationship with social media. However, note that many people struggle with social media use, and sharing this self-assessment with family and friends may help someone in need.

The above quiz results are only an indicator, and they are not a substitute for a behavioral health professional's opinion. If you or a loved one has concerns about excessive social media use, reach out to a behavioral health provider for assistance.

Treatment programs at Las Encinas Hospital

At Las Encinas Hospital, we offer a variety of programs for people who struggle with behavioral health issues, including depression, anxiety, and addiction. Additionally, our clinical team has years of experience helping teenagers and young adults who need to change social media habits and manage mental health challenges. For treatment, check out our teen inpatient programs and inpatient programs for adults. We also offer a range of outpatient behavioral health services.

To get started, contact us online or call Las Encinas Hospital directly at (877) 579-8140. We can help answer any questions you may have and schedule you or a loved one for a free mental health assessment. After your free mental health assessment, a behavioral health specialist can help build a custom treatment program for the patient’s unique needs.