Is social media harming your mind?

The number of people using social media is forever increasing. With an estimated 1 in 3 people worldwide using a social media platform their effects can be powerful in both good and bad ways.

One in four people will suffer with a mental health condition at some point in their life. Will social media make this worse or better? Social media can have powerful effects and for some people it can be life-changing overnight, but despite the number of users, it can be a very lonely world.

I have seen a number of different things that has given me mixed emotions on whether social media is a blessing or a curse. In some cases, I found that people with a mental health problem have excellent peer to peer support across social media, helping them with daily motivation, giving lovely messages to promote recovery and kind images posted regularly to remind them how wonderful they really are. These accounts are very powerful, and help to make people feel good about themselves. For some people this is the only way to get some support.

However, others were very different. Some people share negative stories, and send malicious messages to vulnerable people. It is very easy for posts can to go viral on social media meaning your life can change within a heartbeat. It has to be remembered that anyone can see what you write., it’s also important to realise how a simple post or comment can affect someone dramatically. Vulnerable people are particularly at risk.  

Social media and virtual worlds can be a way for an individual to express themselves if they find it hard to do so in person, and it is a great way to convey emotions and impact other people. It just needs to be done in the right way.

Anxiety UK conducted a survey on social media use and its effects. The survey stated that 53% of people said that social media had changed their personality, and those who experienced a negative change stated that they felt a drop in confidence when comparing their achievements to others. Two thirds of the people surveyed also said they had trouble relaxing and sleeping after using social media.

Kraut and colleagues writing in American Psychologist found that high levels of social media use correlate with higher risks of mental health problems (1). This doesn’t mean that social media increases the risk in itself – it could be that if you have a mental health condition you are more likely to go on social media. We still don’t know exactly what the effects really are. We know that ‘digital natives are more likely to see social media and the internet in general as prosocial (2). Barak and colleagues recently found that as a tool for individual empowerment it can educate, reduce stigma, signpost resources, access hard to reach groups, provide patient and carer support groups, and potentially encourage more emotional expression and self-reflection (3).

 It’s great to receive some words of encouragement from someone reminding you that ‘you're not alone’ and that ‘you can do this’ during a time of need, and with social media being such a powerful tool, let’s use it for the better.

 Why not use social media today to have a positive impact on someone?

  1. Kraut R, Patterson M, Lundmark V, Kiesler S, Mukophadhyay T, Scherlis W. Internet paradox: A social technology that reduces social involvement and psychological well-being? Am Psychol 1998; 53: 1017.
  2. Huang C. Internet use and psychological well-being: A meta-analysis. Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw 2010; 13: 241–9.
  3. Barak A, Grohol JM. Current and future trends in internet-supported mental health interventions. J Technol Hum Serv 2011; 29: 155–96.