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How Does Social Media Affect Mental Health?

By: Dan Herrick

While social media has a lot of positive impacts that make our lives easier by tenfold, there have been problems with social media that can cause personal issues. So, is social media really benefiting the average person?

With technology always in our pockets during the day and available right when we wake up on our nightstands, it seems like we are never disconnected from the internet.

Peter Mudd, a sophomore finance major, echoed the idea, saying “When I am on social media for a while or more than I usually am, I can get caught up in other people’s unnecessary drama.

However, Mudd would not cut himself off from social media altogether as he believes social media is also important for staying up to date on news around the world. “I do feel social media is important for connecting yourself to others.”

Is social media all that beneficial for me and my mental health? Many believe social media hinders one’s ability to have intelligent conversations face to face because now, this interaction has taken a backseat to texting, calling, ext. One’s emotions aren’t as concrete over the phone as they are when you are three feet away from them engaging in personal conversation.

“In fact, the (data) suggest that if adolescents using social media for more than 30 minutes per day had instead used it for 30 minutes or less, there would have been 9.4% fewer high internalizing problem cases and 7.3% fewer high externalizing problem cases” (Williams, 2019). Almost 10% of internal problems with self-image and anxiety wouldn’t even have occurred if the average person just spent half an hour or less on social media every day.

However, another study compared the effects of social media on mental health to eating potatoes (Orben & Przybylski, 2019). Mentioning eating potatoes and comparing that to social media and the negative effects it has on mental health shows that these authors believe that time spent on social media has no effect on one’s mental health.

Other studies suggest some people benefit so much from the opportunity to connect with others on social media, these benefits may be worth any potential downsides. Social disconnectedness and loneliness are arguments for those who want to have a social media page but either can’t or aren’t allowed.

Social disconnectedness can occur within individuals who don’t have a strong social game. People who don’t have the same opportunity to meet others can have higher chances of developing social anxiety or depressive symptoms (Cornwell & Waite, 2009). Not being able to communicate with others on a daily basis is a huge loss of opportunity to build and strengthen different relationships with your peers.

Carol Smith, Health and Wellness professor at Elon University she said the effect of social media on mental health was “big.” She always opens up room in her schedule so that if one of her students has no one to talk to about something important she is always there to lend a helping hand.

Despite these studies and arguments indicating that social media use can be positive for kids and adults to use, there is existing evidence to deny those conclusions.

According to the Social Comparison Theory, people compare themselves to each other all the time. These social media sites like Instagram and Snapchat are built to “show off yourself” and people can view and critique you. Unfortunately, news spreads like wildfire nowadays with unlimited access to our smartphones.

Smith avoids this issue by minimizing social media in her life. She doesn’t own a smartphone or any type of electronic equipment at home. Not owning any type of electronic device can be beneficial, she says. “I don’t own a mobile phone at home so I am unable to go online and communicate with others.”

Instead, she prefers face to face interaction which is more “old-school” yet more effective in displaying your emotions.

This risk is even greater for those who live and deal with anxiety and depression in their day to day lives. A close friend manages anxiety. He says that social media can be a distraction and he can sometimes stay up through all hours of the night scrolling through and viewing different friend updates and news from all over the world. Being on social media for too long can distract him from doing other important activities and positively correlates to more negative emotions and worse feelings towards himself and others. When he has one of these nights, he is more likely to miss school and tends to be less social and motivated to do anything because of how long he stayed up on social media.

All over college campuses, students have social anxiety and or depressive symptoms. From all of the research and data, there are many ways students can be distracted from being productive and social. Social media is one of them.

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