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Effects of social media on young people's mental health

Nowadays, almost everyone is on some form of social media. Indeed, it’s become essential both for maintaining a social life and for aiding many in their career paths, but how is it affecting our mental health?

Studies show negative effects are most pronounced in the “iGen” referring to those born in 1995 or later with an uptick in disorders in 2011 coinciding with the rise of social media. [1] However older adults are not immune from being negatively affected, a study published in November 2021 followed 5,395 respondents showing minimal depressive symptoms with a mean age of 56 from the timespan of May 2020 to May 2021, concluding “Among survey respondents who did not report depressive symptoms initially, social media use was associated with greater likelihood of subsequent increase in depressive symptoms”. [2]

A more insidious effect of some social media algorithms is that they feed you more of the same content you already look at. For example, if someone is inclined to look at depressing things, for example fear inducing news articles, more of those same articles will appear in their feed. Indeed, specific sites such as Facebook have been accused of aiding the recent rise in political polarisation and extremism, with the “echo chamber” effect leading to confirming users biases, often with unflagged misinformation. [3] [4]

However, it isn’t all bad news, for isolated people for example the very socially anxious, the shielding and older people without social media they may not get to talk to anybody. Those living and working overseas from their family can connect with them more easily than they ever could before. Furthermore, members of minority groups such as those on the autistic spectrum who may not have been able to find many peers like them in real life can now easily join a group where thousands like them link up and share thoughts they can relate to.

Therefore, it’s not important to condemn all use of social media, indeed whether we like it or not it is here to stay. Instead we should focus on how to use it responsibly. Some of our tips are: Don’t compare your life to the lives of your peers when you see their pictures, remember that it’s an idealised portrait with snapshots of them in their best moments that don’t show the full story. Follow pages and topics that make you happy and contribute to your life instead of the ones that focus on politics and the news and drumming up clicks through doom and gloom. Limit your time on these platforms so it’s not the first thing you go on in the morning and the last thing you look at before bed. Finally, don’t compulsively check for likes or tie them to your self-worth, they are not at all a measure for how people feel about you.

Instead prioritise using social media for its intended purpose. Find those like you, find new hobbies and interests, find new opportunities for your career, and keep in touch with your true friends and family.



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