The Wall Street Journal recently published an article discussing the impact the social media app, Instagram, has on the mental health needs of young individuals, specifically females. This research was done by Facebook’s internal research team. Their findings showed that 32% of teenage girls who felt bad about their body image only felt worse when they used Instagram. In this particular study, they also found that Instagram made body image issues worse for one in three teen girls. Another study they did found that a small number of British and American teen users reported they had suicidal thoughts because of Instagram. While this particular research is focused on a limited set of findings, it is still very important information to discuss to help us understand the impact that social media has on an individual’s mental health.
As research shows us, there are both positives and negatives to social media. Social media allows individuals to connect with friends and family across the globe, individuals can gather opinions and feedback from others, and because of social media individuals can even meet people all over the world and connect in a virtual space. When social media was initially created, the goal was to connect people and to allow people to share what was happening in their lives with the people they cared about. But then we read studies like the one discussed above, we can’t help but think of the negative consequences social media has on our lives. The intent was to connect individuals, but are we now living in a world where social media causes more disconnect?
I think the answer to that question is a tricky one. Research shows us that it boils down to how often people are on social media, the social media platforms being used, and the reasons why individuals are on social media. For people who join social media to gain followers and receive “likes”, there is a good chance social media is going to end up causing them to feel more disconnected than connected. Also, we know that the more time people spend on social media, the higher their chances are of having a mental health condition like anxiety or depression. Mental health conditions are typically very isolating, leading them to feel disconnected from others.
As discussed above, teenagers who use social media, specifically Instagram, could end up dealing with many mental health struggles, including struggles with their body image. If there are teenagers who are struggling with the way they view themselves, it is important for them to analyze their social media usage. Are they spending a substantial amount of their time on social media? Why are they on social media in the first place? When they are spending time on social media how is it making them feel? There is a chance that the teenagers who were interviewed in the above studies spent a large amount of time on social media and that their motives were not to simply connect with friends, but instead to gain followers.
Even with all this said, sometimes the comparison that happens on social media is not a conscious comparison that is happening. Many individuals do not even realize they are comparing their lives to others. One quick scroll on Facebook or Instagram and someone might see their friend who got engaged and another friend who went on a tropical vacation, all while that person is sitting on their couch binge watching a Netflix show. We have ALL been there. In that moment, comparisons start to set in whether we realize it or not. Those comparisons are what can lead to negative self-image and such negative consequences to social media usage as were discussed above. This is why, ultimately it is crucial for every person to practice mindfulness when using social media. We must all be aware of how much time we are spending on social media, the platforms we are using, and the reasons why we are on social media. Even if we are aware of those things, we must also practice a very conscious awareness of the effects social media is having on our mental health because a lot of times social media impacts our mental health without us even realizing it.
As discussed before, the intention of social media was to connect people to their loved ones. Take time today to ask yourself the hard question of whether social media is positively impacting you or negatively impacting your mental health? Does social media make you feel more connected, or does it make you feel disconnected and alone? If social media is not a benefit to you, set limits on your phone for how much time you spend on social media, take a break from social media, or even consider deleting social media all together. All in all, make sure to look out for yourself and do what is best for your mental health and well-being.
Katie Zimmerman, Project Coordinator for The Kim Foundation
Katie Zimmerman joined The Kim Foundation in June 2019. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Studies and Sociology from Central College in Pella, Iowa. During her time in college, she volunteered at many non-profit organizations and took multiple sociology classes which focused on mental health. Katie’s role at The Kim Foundation includes running the social media accounts, assisting in the Youth Advisory Council, and providing mental health awareness and education to the community through A Voice for Hope and Healing presentations.