We spend much of our lives living in the virtual world of social media. In fact, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, over 3 billion people globally use social media to connect to others, access news and share information. Social media giants, Facebook and Instagram, continue to grow. As of the fourth quarter of 2019, Facebook has almost 2.5 billion monthly active users and Instagram has over two billion monthly users.
While we would like to believe that all we see online is real life, it often is not. The constant stream of pictures and information tells us that everyone is happier, wealthier, prettier, and smarter than we are. But that simply isn’t true, and social media has become a catapult for jealousy, low self-esteem, and depression. Eventually, it takes a toll on our mental health.
How does social media affect mental health?
The illusion of social media is undeniable and gives us a false sense of belonging and feeling better about ourselves, although we know that isn’t true. Studies have shown that social media does impact mental health. Nottingham Trent University experts found that excessive use of social media was connected to neglecting personal life, mental preoccupation, mood modification, and hiding the addictive behavior.
While social media provides an invaluable resource to frequently connect with others, the flip side shows us that the more time individuals spend on social media, the more socially isolated they become, which can often result in depression. According to a recent article in Psychology Today, this social isolation that turns to loneliness is more harmful than smoking 15 cigarettes per day. Additionally, research shows that people who juggle multiple social media platforms have three times more risk of depression than those who use less. The constant juggling wreaks havoc on the brain causing poor attention, cognition, and mood.
More and more people are becoming tech-hungry and tech-savvy and the increase of mobile-only platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, social networking is readily available. This constant connection has caused a surge in usage and increased levels of depression for several reasons.
- Multi-tasking. Those who juggle multiple social platforms (7-11) have three times the risk of depression than those who use less. The constant streaming and multitasking wreak havoc on the brain causing poorer attention, cognition, and mood.
- Comparison. As we know social media typically only portrays the best of us – best photos, celebrations, food, status, etc., creating an illusion of perfect lives. This false reality often leads to unrealistic expectations or causes us to judge how we measure up, creating a feeling of inadequacy and low self-esteem. For example, altered Instagram photos can leave some people feeling negative about their body or their status.
- Social Isolation.Social media is dependent on followers and friends, leaving many people to think that the more they have, the better their social life. However, this is not true. When someone is lacking friends or followers it may leave them feeling negative and feeling as if they are out of the social circle. Additionally, virtual communication has caused a reduction in face-to-face contact, triggering social isolation, often leading to depression. Social interaction plays a key role in our physical and mental well-being and virtual friends do not have the same therapeutic effect.
What does depression look like?
Depression symptoms vary in each person and can increase or decrease depending on their interactions on social media. Depression is more than just feeling sad or lonely; a depressive disorder changes how someone functions daily, and typically lasts for more than two weeks. Common symptoms include:
- Changes in sleep
- Changes in appetite
- Lack of concentration
- Loss of energy
- Lack of interest in activities
- Hopelessness or guilty thoughts
- Changes in movement (less activity or agitation)
- Physical aches and pains
- Suicidal thoughts
Social media may keep us connected and entertained, but social isolation and comparing ourselves to a false reality can be detrimental to your health. Taking a break from social media and allowing yourself to enjoy life without depending on technology can improve your psychological health.
How can I get help?
Unplugging and spending time in the moment with friends and family can relieve the social isolation that so many feel when they become addicted to their device. At the Greenfield Recovery Center, we help people restart their journey to a healthier tech-life balance by immersing participants in a natural environment with experiential challenges along with facilitated activities supporting independent living. Using four unique phases, including a digital detox, participants learn to overcome the dependency on technology for information, connection, and direction that triggers some to get trapped in virtual reality. If you or a loved one is lost in a virtual world and needing help, call us today or complete our contact form for more information. We are here to help you plug back into life.