Over the last two decades, the use of social media has become part of our daily lives. We use it for entertainment, to stay connected and to keep up to date with important information. Especially in the last few months during the COVID-19 outbreak, social media has helped to reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation during quarantine. I myself use several social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Youtube etc. all for different reasons, sometimes I tend to catch myself going on Instagram for no reason in the morning when I wake up or it being the first app I open when I unlock my phone. Then I wonder, as a lot of people probably do, have I become a social media addict? Also getting the weekly screen time reports and seeing how many hours a day/week I spend on these apps makes me wonder if this is something that I should reduce, and does this have any implications on our mental health?
There is already a lot of research which explores the effects of social media usage on mental health conditions such as depression and suicidality specifically among adolescents. One of the reasons why this is being explored is because there has been an increase in adolescent depression and suicidal behaviour over the last two decades with the onset of social media use. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth between the ages of 10-34 years old (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 2017).
So what are the concerns around the effects of social media use on adolescent mental health? A thorough review of all the available evidence by Carol Vidal and her team has found that there are four main themes derived from research findings:
The takeaway message from these findings is that social media is part of our lives if we use it right it can help us to form social connections, communicate better and find out useful information. It can be both good and bad depending on our circumstances and the way we use it. By understanding what causes adolescents to develop addictive behaviours or negative thoughts when using social media, we can develop more informed interventions, therapies and educate people how to use social media for their benefit and to develop a deeper understanding of their own behaviours, feelings and reasons why they are using these platforms.
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