The impacts of social media on mental health
Does social media help or hinder mental health? Do mindfulness apps do anything? Is it raising awareness, or just giving us major FOMO? I explore these topics and speak with Psychologist and Founder of My Colourful Mind Movement, Brianna Thomas.
Let’s take a deeper dive into social media and mental health
According to Berryman et al (2017:2), public narrative often deems mere exposure to social media as negative for mental health, but recent research suggests it is more important how it is used. Berryman explains using social media for social comparison can lead to depression, but if used to express one’s authentic self, it can be a positive experience.
So, if we change how we use our favourite apps, can we change this narrative and turn the use of social media into a positive experience for our mental health?
Does social media increase awareness about mental health?
It would be difficult to argue that social media has not played a huge role in the increase of awareness of mental health over the past five to ten years. It seems people are less afraid of speaking out and understand mental illness more than ever before.
Mental health is the fifth greatest contributor to the global burden of diseases. Stigma contributes to the huge burden of mental morbidity. More than 80% of people with mental illness had not received treatment despite the presence of illness for more than 12 months (Latha et al 2020:2).
There is an increasing awareness of mental health from using digital media because it is effective at reaching many people in a short time (Latha et al 2020:1). As a result of talking about my own anxiety online, I connected with others who have struggled and that interaction helped us both. Without social media, that would not have happened.
Given the statistics of people who don’t receive treatment, social media’s role in increasing awareness and understanding of mental health, providing free resources and reducing stigma must be seen as an incredible positive.
Do mindfulness apps help us?
Brianna believes they are useful and help her patients in clinic. Mindfulness apps are easily accessible, scalable and, if proven cost-effective, could constitute a feasible alternative to promote mental health and enhance well-being at a large scale (Éva Gál et al 2021:140).
They certainly can’t hurt, right?! The sleep meditations on Smiling Mind are my favourite. They’re short enough that my hyperactive brain doesn’t trail off wondering if my dog will ever speak English.
How can we use social media positively?
The podcast tips on setting boundaries, turning off dopamine inducing notifications and checking your focus are excellent steps towards using social media positively. As Berryman et al suggested above, presenting yourself authentically is also helpful.
Another way to use social media positively is to seek free resources or access mental health programs. A 2017 study of 135 people found 85% of participants expressed interest in mental health programs delivered through social media (Naslund et al 2017:1). I’ve linked some great free resources and Instagram accounts for you to follow at the end.
The impacts of social media on mental health can be both positive and negative. On one hand, we have a generation of ‘FOMOists’ and people comparing themselves to other’s highlight reels.
On the other hand, we must not forget that many mental health problems were suffered in isolation before the digital age. These days, people can discuss their psychological difficulties and seek professional help as they are not deterred by stigma. They can find other people through online groups or forums who are struggling like them. We are also living in an era where doctors are more likely to diagnose and treat mental health problems (Keles et al 2020:3). All thanks to social media!
As outlined by Berryman et al (2017:2), it is more about how social media is used. Perhaps if we employ some of the above ideas, we can work towards changing the public’s negative narrative and help our mental health.
Helpful resources and Instagram accounts to follow:
@journey_to_wellness (mentioned in podcast)
Beyond Now Safety App by Beyond Blue (mentioned in podcast)
Smiling Mind (mentioned in podcast)
If you need help, please call:
Lifeline 13 11 14
Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800
MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2014) ‘Australia’s health 2014’, Australia’s Health, AIHW, catalogue number AUS 178, AIHW, Australian Government, doi: 10.5816/5ec1e4122547e.
Berryman C, Ferguson C and Negy C (2017) ‘Social Media Use and Mental Health among Young Adults’, Psychiatr Q, 89:307–314, doi: 10.1007/s11126-017-9535-6.
Betul Keles, Niall McCrae & Annmarie Grealish (2020) A systematic review: the influence of social media on depression, anxiety and psychological distress in adolescents, International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, 25:1, 79-93, doi: 10.1080/02673843.2019.1590851.
Gál É, Ștefan S and Cristea I (2021) ‘The efficacy of mindfulness meditation apps in enhancing users’ well-being and mental health related outcomes: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials’, Journal of Affective Disorders, 279:131-142, doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2020.09.134.
Latha K, Meena K S, Pravitha M R, Dasgupta M, Chaturvedi S K (2020) ‘Effective use of social media platforms for promotion of mental health awareness’, J Edu Health Promot, 9-124, doi: 10.4103/jehp.jehp_90_20.
Naslund J, Aschbrenner K, McHugo G, Unutzer J, Marsch L and Bartels S (2017) ‘Exploring opportunities to support mental health care using social media: A survey of social media users with mental illness’, Early Intervention in Psychiatry, 13:405– 413, doi: 10.1111/eip.12496.
Music credit: “Frozen Egg” by Lame Drivers is licensed under (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0).
Love this post? Please give it a share!