Social Media’s Effect on Mental Health


Isabelle Morse

Social media can have an effect on the mental health of teens, and is associated with anxiety, depression, and fear of missing out.

Technology has rapidly evolved in recent years, and now social media plays a large role in daily lives for both adolescents and adults. Social media has brought new opportunities and challenges for all, with both positive and negative effects. Technology is now so large one can access nearly everything, but when will it be enough? Even as social media is constantly changing and evolving for the better, it is also causing an increase in mental health issues, leaving more people insecure and hurt than before. 

Social media is seen everywhere around us; smartphones are now a part of teens’ lives. According to the Pew Research Center, 95% of teens say they have a phone or have access to one. Many are present on social media, with 45% of teens saying they are online on a near-constant basis, up 24% from 3 years prior. Teens are now always carrying their phone and the pressure social media places on them. 

Some teens described social media as mostly positive (35%) and said that it comes with benefits. Many said social media allows teens to connect with family and friends and find more people who have similar interests to them. Others noted that social media has neither a positive or negative effect (45%), and some thought that it is mostly negative (25%).

Social media brings people together and also tears them apart. Teens say social media projects bullying, the spread of rumors and drama, and unrealistic views on the lives of others. Social media is designed to be addicting, which is why it is not as easy to simply tell someone, “If you weren’t on your phone so much…” 

FOMO, fear of missing out, plays a role in this situation. People do not like the feeling that they are missing out on jokes or connections on social media platforms. These experiences can create depression and anxiety; when people look online and see they are excluded, it can affect them with loneliness, feelings of inferiority, reduced self-esteem, and extreme social anxiety. FOMO can compel people to pick up their phones every few minutes to check for updates or compulsively respond every time they hear that buzz buzz. This could mean taking risks when driving, missing out on sleep at night, or prioritizing social media interaction over real-world relationships.   

In 2020, Instagram announced they would be hiding likes from other users to restrain the comparison and hurt feelings associated with attaching popularity to likes. Does this help fight mental health issues, or is it just placing a band-aid over a bullet wound? It is a small step in the right direction. Jacqueline Sperling, Ph.D., a psychologist at McLean Hospital who works with youth experiencing anxiety disorders, says, “Even if you remove the likes, there continue to be opportunities for comparisons and feedback. People still can compare themselves to others, and people still can post comments.” 

Some things can be done to try to preserve mental health. A 2018 University of Pennsylvania study found that decreasing social media use to 30 minutes a day resulted in a significant reduction in levels of anxiety, depression, sleep problems, loneliness, and FOMO. Reducing our exposure to social media is not the only way to help with mental health; the same study saw that just being aware and mindful of one’s social media use can improve focus and mood. Tips like setting screen time limits, turning off the phone at certain times of the day, or not bringing a phone to bed can make it easier to reduce screen time.

It is essential to be honest with yourself and look at your focus on social media. Ask yourself questions like: Are you an active or a passive user on social media? Mindlessly scrolling through posts does not provide an actually meaningful sense of conversation and may often leave users feeling more isolated. Actively participating can offer more interaction with others. Do you use social media as a substitute for real life? Is there a healthier substitute for your use of social media? Social media is a quick and convenient way to fill time and avoid difficult feelings, but there are healthier ways. For example, if you are bored, try a new hobby or if you are lonely, invite a friend out for lunch instead. Being honest with yourself about your social media can make a big difference in your life both mentally and physically.

Technology will continue to grow every day, and there is nothing we can do about it, but we can take control of our own lives and be mindful of when social media is actually helping versus making us worse. Check-in on your friends and even yourself to make sure social media is benefiting you. Social media has positive aspects to it; everyone needs to find the right balance that will keep them mentally healthy. You must decide when enough is enough.