Social media — helping or harming your mental health?

Tech Talk Tuesday #81: Social media — helping or harming your mental health?

In May 2017, a survey by the Royal Society for Public Health in England revealed that 3 of the 4 most popular social media platforms/apps had a net negative effect on the mental well-being of young people. Surveying nearly 1,500 teenagers and young adults aged 14 to 24 from February through May of 2017, the survey asked about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat.

Some questions were on negative experiences and feelings, such as anxiety and depression when using the apps. Other questions were about positive experiences—such as getting emotional support on these sites and the ability for self-expression. Nearly 7 in 10 teens reported receiving support on social media during challenging times. ** See the end for all of the things asked in the survey.

For all of the sites, other than Facebook, the platforms were found to have more of a negative effect on mental well-being than a positive effect. Instagram was the worst—showing that it brings up a lot of feelings of anxiety, depression, loneliness, as well as problems with body image and sleep.

The survey’s authors have called on the social media companies to make changes to help curb these feelings of envy and inadequacy that result in anxiety and depression. Here are a few of those suggestions and how people in the survey thought about these ideas.

  1. In-app features that indicate when a picture has been digitally manipulated or edited (68% surveyed agreed with this recommendation—remember these are 14- to 24- year- olds agreeing)
  2. The inclusion of pop-up messages that tell a person when they are on an app excessively long (71% agreed with this)
  3. Social media apps should use algorithms to identify people that may be suffering from mental health problems and then discreetly send them info about getting help (80% agreed with this)

For this TTT, check in with your kids about how often they use these social media apps and what feelings come up for them when they do. If your kids are younger, then it can still be a great conversation about what responsibility companies have to their users.

Some talking points to get the conversation going:

  • What are some of the positives of being on social media for you personally? Can you give an example of getting social support during a challenging time?
  • Which platform makes you feel anxious or sad at times and why?
  • Do you agree or disagree with the suggestions that the authors are asking social media companies to do? And why?

** The 14 health and well-being-related issues were:

  1. Awareness and understanding of other people's health experiences
  2. Access to expert health information you know you can trust
  3. Emotional support (empathy and compassion from family and friends)
  4. Anxiety (feelings of worry, nervousness or unease)
  5. Depression (feeling extremely low and unhappy)
  6. Loneliness (feelings of being all on your own)
  7. Sleep (quality and amount of sleep)
  8. Self-expression (the expression of your feelings, thoughts or ideas)
  9. Self-identity (ability to define who you are)
  10. Body image (how you feel about how you look)
  11. Real world relationships (maintaining relationships with other people)
  12. Community building (feeling part of a community of like-minded people)
  13. Bullying (threatening or abusive behavior towards you)
  14. FoMO (Fear of Missing Out – feeling you need to stay connected because you are worried things could be happening without you)

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