At the height of the pandemic, it seemed that the Internet was the only way for people to interact with each other and feel a sense of connection with the rest of the world. With most populations restricted in their movements and unable to go to restaurants, concerts, and work, the Internet provided a respite from the boredom of being locked down. Social media companies increased their workforce to keep up with the demand caused by more people using their platforms, and online chat apps like Zoom grew exponentially.
Humans are social animals and need to connect with others, whether in person or virtually. The positive aspects of social media are feeling part of a group, meeting people with similar likes, and finding useful resources. When a family or friend is somewhere far away, social media is a great way to connect with them and stay current on news and family events.
Some other positive aspects of social media use on mental health include being able to communicate with friends and family around the world. It also helps people find new friends and join communities and networks of people who share similar interests. One positive outcome of social media use is the ability to promote worthwhile causes and raise awareness of important issues in the world. Social media can help individuals offer emotional support to family and friends in tough times and find vital social connections for help. If someone lives in a remote area, the Internet can provide improved mental health by offering independence, social connections, and the ability to reach the rest of the world.
Social media and the Internet can help individuals find outlets for creative self-expression and give them a sense of empowerment when they can express themselves freely. It also can be a great place to discover valuable information and opinions if used with care.
There are some negative aspects of social media that affect the mental health of the user. The consequences of long-term use, especially in kids, can lead to higher levels of anxiety, loneliness, and suicidal ideation. The constant access to social media platforms means there is never a break from the endless comments and posts that may have negative connotations. With so many people posting the positive aspects of their lives, the user feels a growing feeling of inadequacy because they are seeing someone else’s life through a filter.
The fear of missing out (FOMO) is a very real phenomenon where the social media user is constantly bombarded by feelings that the person on the other side of the post is living a better life and having more fun. This fear can trigger low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression because the user believes they are missing out on all the interesting parts of life they see their friends enjoying. This works very much like an addiction and has the user picking up their device every few minutes to check the latest post or the most interesting stories.
These feelings of inadequacy and depression are areas of study when applying for an online masters in mental health counseling. Accredited courses such as the one provided by St. Bonaventure University help students develop communication and critical thinking skills as well as the ability to diagnose psychopathology. Following graduation, students of this course have gone on to work in a number of environments including health centers, hospitals and helping young people in colleges.
Humans, especially younger generations, are pack animals that crave human interaction, seek self-esteem, and need to know where they are in the order of things. The feelings of inadequacy an individual can feel on social media are due to manipulated images that bear no resemblance to reality. There are countless apps with filters that offer the chance to look flawless in pictures, and even though we know this is a manipulation, it still has the user feeling depressed about their appearance and life. Users know that their friends only post about the positive things in their lives or the best pictures where they look happy and satisfied, yet we somehow keep getting duped into believing their lives are far superior to ours.
This feeling of inadequacy sparks overuse of social media and compulsively acting on every alert that pops up on a device’s screen. This addictive behavior can lead to a lack of sleep, distracted driving, or abandoning real relationships for virtual ones. It can also lead to feelings of isolation as it increases loneliness because it is not a real interaction.
It has been said that the world is in a mental health crisis after the years of isolation endured because of covid. Depression and anxiety are at an all-time high because, as human beings, we crave personal contact to maintain a positive frame of mind. A hug, a kiss, or even just eye contact with someone you care about can boost your mood faster and more effectively than any interaction on social media. Mood disorders can be exacerbated by avoiding personal relationships and becoming addicted to social media.
About half of teens report being bullied between 13 and 17, with their appearance being the primary source of torment. Social media platforms ensure that a teenager never gets a break from their bullies because they can find them anywhere. This excessive and incessant bullying can play with a teen’s mental health and leave emotional scars or cause suicidal thoughts. These years are crucial in social development for young adults, and this type of negative interaction can have severe and long-term effects.
Most people use their devices like tablets or cell phones to access social media platforms, which means they are accessible all the time, and there is never a break. Constant connectivity can activate impulse control issues and trigger addictive behavior like constantly checking for new alerts. It can also affect concentration and focus, which can disturb sleep patterns and affect all aspects of your life. There is a scientific explanation for why this constant connectivity affects the brain the same way addiction does. When you receive a share or a like online, the brain releases dopamine which gives you the same feeling of pleasure that you would get from lighting up a cigarette or playing a slot machine. This chemical creates a craving for that feeling, and it becomes the most important aspect of life.
When many of us feel awkward or anxious, we use social media to provide a respite from these feelings and entertain us to keep our minds off negative thoughts. The problem is that social media is not a substitute for human interaction and often leaves us feeling even worse and more anxious. Heavy social media use can mask other problems an individual may be suffering and make it impossible for family and friends to notice when something is wrong. It also prevents users from reflecting on what is bothering them and dealing with it head-on.
Some indications that social media may be adversely affecting your mental health include spending more and more time on social media and less time with friends and family. When the Internet replaces personal social interactions, that is a strong sign it may be affecting your mental health. Another indicator of social media addiction is constantly comparing yourself to others in your feed and feeling like you are coming up short. Low self-esteem and negative body image can result in depression, suicidal ideation, and eating disorders, but social media is full of unrealistic images and manipulated videos and ads.
Another disturbing trend in social media addiction is engaging in dangerous behavior to get likes or shares. Stories of young people climbing on moving trains, throwing furniture off balconies, or drinking hazardous liquids like laundry detergent are all examples of how immature minds can engage in risky behavior in the name of social media. This behavior can also extend to cyberbullying or inciting violent acts online. There have been numerous instances of young people finding like-minded individuals online to plan attacks on certain minority groups or government agencies. Social media platforms that allow for hate speech can exacerbate a mind that may already be struggling with mental health issues with disastrous results.
Mental health counselors can help individuals struggling with social media addiction in various ways. One approach they might use is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of talk therapy that helps individuals change their negative thoughts and behaviors by developing coping skills and problem-solving strategies. This type of therapy uses methods of training the brain to stop thinking negatively and replace those thoughts with more positive, enlightened ones. An example would be replacing the concept of boredom with one of introspection and reflection.
CBT can help individuals with social media addiction by assisting them to identify negative thoughts and behaviors. Users of social media can become more aware of their problematic behaviors and thought patterns. Mental health counselors may work with clients to identify triggers that lead to excessive social media use, such as stress, boredom, or feelings of loneliness.
They also use CBT to develop coping strategies for dealing with these triggers. For example, they may teach individuals how to practice relaxation or mindfulness techniques to reduce stress and anxiety or help individuals develop alternative activities that can relieve loneliness or boredom. CBT is a long-term therapeutic solution that requires a desire and dedication to lose the addictive behavior around the use of electronic devices. It is only as good as the individual practicing it, so there must be a strong desire to stop using social media.
CBT also involves challenging negative beliefs and replacing them with more positive ones. Counselors can help individuals identify and challenge negative beliefs about themselves or their social media use and replace them with more positive ones. This includes helping individuals set goals to reduce their social media use and monitor their progress. They may help clients set limits on screen time, develop a schedule for social media use, or identify alternative activities they can engage in instead of social media.
This type of therapy can help individuals build greater self-awareness, develop healthy coping strategies, and reduce problematic social media use. With the guidance of a mental health counselor, individuals can learn strategies for creating healthier relationships with social media and other digital devices. Counselors can also work with individuals to address underlying emotional issues driving compulsive social media use. For example, they may explore underlying anxiety, stress, or depression that can be addressed with counseling or other treatment options.
Another helpful approach can be education and awareness around the impacts of social media on mental health. Counselors can help individuals better understand the negative effects of overusing social media on emotional well-being and provide strategies for minimizing problematic social media use. Mental health counselors can provide support and guidance to individuals struggling with social media addiction, helping them develop healthier behaviors and find balance in their use of technology.
While social media can be an amazing outlet for many people and offers a space for creativity and freedom of expression, it can also be dangerous for mental health. The availability of social media on any device can lead to addictive behaviors and feelings of loneliness, depression, and inadequacy. Never being able to relax and constantly checking on the latest tweet or post can disrupt daily life and result in a lack of sleep and concentration. Mental health counselors are an excellent source of help for those suffering from social media addiction. These medical professionals can provide helpful therapy treatments and pinpoint any underlying conditions that may be causing the behavior.