Can social media affect our mental health?

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By Pierangelly Del Rio Martinez

Mental health has become an extensively discussed topic in 2017. From celebrities opening about their personal struggles and the Heads Together campaign led by the royal family to politicians keen to make the topic an agenda of their own, the public profile of mental health and wellbeing has experienced a continuous boost which keeps making headlines.

Most recently, particular attention has been given to young people’s mental health with a study demonstrating that social media has a great impact on the younger generation’s well-being.

According to the study, published last week, platforms such as Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram are harmful to the point of causing feelings of anxiety and inadequacy. The data was collected from around 1,500 people aged 14 to 24.

Participants were asked to rate the impact of the five social media channels, thinking about their impact on 14 health and wellbeing issues including body image, bullying, self-identity, anxiety, depression, loneliness and their effect on sleep patterns.

The outcomes of the survey demonstrated that Instagram is the platform with the most negative impact. The negative score was caused due to its influence in seven of the 14 measures, especially its impact on body image, fear of missing out and sleep patterns as well as feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety. Regardless, it was also praised for having some perks such as being a tool for emotional support, self-expression, and self-identity. Very close to Instagram was Snapchat, which scored poorly because of similar reasons.

Despite the new statistics, it doesn’t come as a surprise that platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, which are very image-focused, have a negative influence on people’s life and often facilitate cyberbullying. Approximately 60 million images are uploaded to Instagram every day; inevitably users will be self-conscious of the content they upload to a platform that is seen by hundreds if not thousands of people. As a result, people stop to wonder whether a certain picture can be flattering or not, contributing either negatively or positively to our self-esteem. Equally, hashtags like fitspo (fitspiration), while trying to spread a positive message, ultimately have an adverse impact on that portion of the public who cannot identify with the body types seen in the images.

Regardless the findings of the survey, not everything was solely negative, as YouTube scored positively in nine categories since it understands people’s self-expression, emotional support, and health experience. Nevertheless, it scored badly for its impact on sleep patterns.

According to The Guardian, the findings have drawn some responses from mental health professionals with the President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists commenting that the results unfairly blamed social media channels for its effects on something as complex as mental health and well-being. He commented:   “I am sure that social media plays a role in unhappiness, but it has as many benefits as it does negatives. We need to teach children how to cope with all aspects of social media – good and bad – to prepare them for an increasingly digitised world. There is real danger in blaming the medium for the message.”

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