Use of social networking sites and the prevalence of anxiety and depression is on the rise worldwide. But, is there a connection between social media and mental health concerns?
How can social media impact mental health?
With smartphones in the pockets of almost every person in the UK, our lives are now full of; posts, followers, subscribers, likes/dislikes and comments. We live in an age where communicating has evolved to far more than just the spoken word. Social media has changed how we talk and share information with one another – ultimately impacting how we live our lives.
The positive side of social media
In many cases, this is a blessing. Social networks are breaking boundaries, allowing us to communicate and get information from different countries and communities instantly! We have immediate access to breaking news and the story can go viral within minutes. As the name suggests, social media can be used to socialise. We can keep up to date with both old and new friends, helping us remain in contact with people we may have otherwise lost touch with. We are able to explore the world via the internet, learn new skills and for some people it has even become a full-time career! Aside from this, social media can also provide people with a sense of place, helping people find different communities of like-minded individuals with similar lives or backgrounds. Here people can learn about their health and mental health and seek advice from those who have gone through similar situations via support groups. This can help people to find suitable support, even if they do not feel comfortable expressing their worries or concerns to friends or relatives.
The negative side of social media
On the other hand, though, research has also found that social media could be detrimental for mental health. Much of the evidence which suggests that social media could be harmful to mental wellbeing is related to cyber-bullying. This could include online ‘trolling’, name-calling, creating a fake profile to intentionally damage another’s reputation or continuously harassing and threats of physical harm. One of the most common forms of online bullying is posting negative comments on someone’s profile, which can be about any aspect of their life, such as social status, appearance, family or job. What makes this type of bullying so harmful is that the bullies can be anonymous, meaning they rarely receive negative repercussions, but the posts can be seen by the whole world.
For someone experiencing cyberbullying, it can lead to a whole host of negative implications for their health, in particular, their mental health. They may be left feeling alone, rejected, ashamed, humiliated and afraid which can result in stress and anger. In their personal and professional life, this might be shown through an increase in days off work, increase in mental health issues, reduced self-esteem, suicidal ideation, and poor physical health which may lead to tobacco, alcohol drug and other substance abuse.
Fortunately, awareness is now being bought to these issues and it is very encouraging to see brave people, celebrities, parents and family members who had dealt with negative effects of social media sharing their stories. This raises awareness, helps to form support groups and gives hope and guidance to others who may be experiencing these issues.
The positive effect of Social media is that support groups and campaigns are helping the users to ignore and report the abusive messages they receive from online trolls as part of a new campaign to stop the spread of hateful content.
The campaign group ‘Get Safe Online’ and the new charity ‘The Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH)’ has published advice on how to best to deal with abuse. Social media users are encouraged to resist the urge to respond back and instead block the troll’s account immediately. It is also encouraged that messages received if they could be seen as containing criminal content, such serious trolling should also be reported to the police.
Dr Shazia Bhatti, General Practitioner at the private GP clinic, London Doctors Clinic