There has been a great deal of focus lately about the impact social media use has on our mental health. Social media is a wonderful way to stay in touch with friends, meet new people, promote your business and focus on the things that you’re passionate about.
I use social media, but I’m very conscious about how much time daily I devote to the online world.
Does social media have a negative impact on our mental health? In my view, in many cases, absolutely. The issue is not the use of social media but the overuse of social media.
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are probably the most common forms of social media but there are others (Snapchat, Reddit, Linkedin).
Recently Facebook’s founding president Sean Parker said he knew they were creating something addictive that exploited “a vulnerability in human psychology”. Parker described how in the early days of Facebook people would tell him that they weren’t on social media because they valued their real-life interactions. And he would reply “OK. You know, you will be.”
He went on to explain that when Facebook was being developed the objective was: “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?” It was this mindset that led to the creation of features such as the “like” button that would give users “a little dopamine hit”.
This is the crux of the problem.
Dopamine is the naturally produced “feel good chemical “ that makes us feel great and a regular “hit” of dopamine can be highly addictive. For all the positives that the use of social media provides the downside is the lack of attention we might pay to other areas of our lives and this need to get a regular “hit” of dopamine.
Social media can also validate someone’s view of themselves and raise self-esteem, which, for many kids who struggle socially, can be very helpful in developing relationships. The opposite can be true for the sensitive and vulnerable teen who receives negative messages on social media.
There has been an increasing number of teenagers whose mental health has been negatively affected by online bullying. The worst case scenario has been suicide.
The death of 14 year old Dolly Everett in the Northern Territory in January once again highlighted the sometimes tragic outcomes are after a sustained period of on-line cyber bullying.
There is no quick fix to online bullying, but in my view, the short answer is to report it and block the perpetrator straight away. Someone who bullies you has no place in your life. Then find other ways to build self-confidence besides social media. Learning self-defence is a great place to start. Not just so you can physically handle yourself but it really is a great way to raise self-esteem.
I find it staggering when I see a group of friends get together. I’m not just talking about the 12 to 18 years olds, I’m also talking about many people in their 40s and 50s. There can be four or five friends sitting around a table having coffee and every one of them is looking at their phone and not talking to one another.
Talking to each other is good for our overall mental health as well as providing the obvious benefits of maintaining our language skills.
Have a think about it today. Do you overuse social media?