Opinions vary as to the benefits and problems of social media usage. Not surprisingly the biggest players in the market tend to come under the greatest scrutiny. Facebook is the prime example. Early speculation that Facebook time was linked to depression was dismissed by some studies but the issue refuses to go away. It’s estimated that around 90 per cent of adolescents have a social media presence. In and of itself this doesn’t seem to present a problem, but the greater the usage the more likely we are to see the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Simply pointing the finger at sites like Facebook doesn’t help us understand the dynamics of human mental health. Facebook is simply a vehicle for social connectivity so the issue is more likely to relate to ways in which people use it. According to one of the latest studies presented to the British Psychological Society by Dr. Heather Cleland Woods, teens who are highly emotionally invested with social media are at greatest risk.
Night use of social media presents the biggest problems with some teens going to sleep late or waking up at different points in the night to check their social media accounts. Fear of missing out (FOMO) means that some teens feel under huge pressure to stay connected for as long as possible. This, coupled with disrupted or sleep deprivation, is significantly linked to the risk of depression.
Fear of missing out is only one aspect of a potentially wider problem. A University of Houston study in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology (pub. online 1 November 2015) reported that social comparison becomes a big mediating factor in depressive symptoms. The study found that teens who compared themselves upwards, that is to people perceived as more attractive, more popular, better grades, were most likely to feel worse. According to the study, teens who logged more Facebook time had more depressive symptoms whether they compared themselves up, down or neutral in terms of social comparisons.
Is any of this so surprising? I don’t think it is. The issue of teen vulnerabilities has been known for generations but the big change is the relentlessness that comes with social media availability. A Canadian study of 700 teens found that the poorest mental health was seen in those most likely to use social networking sites for more than two hours a day. The fact that social media is always ‘on’ suggests the problem comes to those who can’t switch off.
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Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.