“Forming relationships is the hardest thing we do. Social Media has the potential to provide that first critical step.”
Social media has significant influence on society. Most articles focus on negative impacts. We attempt to take a broader view. Data indicates that having an internet connection in your home and participation in social networks decreases the psychological distress associated with depression and anxiety in adults. This is particularly apparent when family members are also connected to the same social network.
On Balance – Social Media and Isolation Reexamined
The Finding My Psych team has been a bit unfair in our analysis of social media use as it relates to mood. On balance, today we seek to provide the other side of the argument.
In today’s review we ask if social media have the power to improve mental health and wellbeing. The data is unclear due to a lack of research. Online platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have only been around for about twelve years.
Arguments Against Social Media Use
In a previous podcast episode, we examine the impact of Facebook engagement on the quality of significant relationships in our primary social circle. In particular, we reflect on the sense of isolation caused by the use of social media.
Well, the sad fact is that we are all Skinnerian rats experiencing the emotional ups and downs associated with irregular hits of dopamine. When a friend likes or comments on one of your posts, you feel warm, connected, even excited. When one of your posts goes horribly unnoticed, whether from the cruel consequence of an algorithm, or nobody actually showing interest, you feel disconnected and isolated.From: “Facebook Depression is Real – Manage Isolation Caused by Social Media,”
Furthermore, anecdotal evidence indicates that social media has made us lonely, depressed, and anxious. This effect is particularly noticed in youth. It is important to remember that Generation Z does not know a world without internet connectivity. Reports indicate that they are the most affected.
The Royal Society for Public Health asserts that:
- 91% of 16-24 year olds use the internet primarily for social networking.
- Rates of anxiety and depression have increased by 70% in the past 25 years.
- Social media is linked to anxiety, depression, and poor sleep.
Expanding Our View – Full Stop!
It is important to avoid the myopic view that online engagement, as a primary means of socializing, is inherently unhealthy. While there is potential for great harm (e.g., bullying), there are also powers to be harnessed. Our increasingly connected world has offered each generation more benefits than negative consequences. While social media is a runaway train in many respects, it can be used to promote positive outcomes.
Five Positive Impacts of Social Media on Wellbeing
There is power in connecting online. Social media provides individuals the ability to seek others with similar struggles, while exposing participants to diverse viewpoints for perspective and problem solving.
We have identified five ways social media positively influences our mental health and wellbeing:
- The Introvert Lifeline: Online social engagement helps introverts connect to others on their terms. As a reminder, introverts get their energy from being alone. Online, they have the ability to engage while recharging their batteries.
- Fitness and Diet Inspiration: It is easy to find and connect with online communities focused on physical wellness. This provides an avenue for motivation when you find it difficult to get outdoors for a long walk or to the gym. With a discerning mind adept at avoiding trends lacking evidence, you can also gain knowledge about dietary impacts on emotional and physical wellbeing.
- Deeper Family Support Networking: The significant relationships in our life require time and care. While one-to-one engagement is king, creating deeper connections through online engagement with family is icing on the cake.
- First Opportunities for Difficult Disclosure: There are topics difficult to discuss. Online engagement can be used to ‘break the ice’ concerning subject matter we are not ready to reveal in person. This is easily done in an anonymous setting where personal data is not connected with the disclosure.
- Empowerment through Democratization of Information: In the past when we needed help managing mood and anxiety problems, we sought out help from a small pool of mental health professionals. They were the only source of expert knowledge. We now seek information from a wide variety of online sources in order to be informed. Recipients of care are now empowered with data and questions for the professionals they choose to work with.