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Mental Health

Is Social Media Affecting Your Mental Health?

Snigdha Samantray, Clinical Psychologist

What consumes your mind, controls your life.

While social media is the most happening thing amongst the youth, it’s important to understand that it does not provide holistic information rather what people choose to share from their reality.

In the current era, where AI is the brainchild of the recent technology boom, it is both difficult and incorrect to NOT have the youth exposed to these social platforms. Difficult as technology-driven AI is the revolution next, incorrect as everyone deserves exposure to this revolution.

Boon or bane?

In recent times, many researchers and their studies have stated high levels of anxiety, depression, bullying, and FOMO, or the “fear of missing out”, resulting from the overuse of social media, especially among the teens and the youth. One such survey by “The Status Of Mind”, published by the United Kingdom’s Royal Society for Public Health, validated the aforementioned.

Quite contrary to the above Instagram co-founder and CEO, Kevin Systrom wrote in a blog post: “Every day on Instagram, we see people share their mental health journeys and connect with communities of support”. This insight into the number of people turning to social media in search of mental health support inspired Instagram to launch its #HereForYou campaign in May 2017. It was intended to encourage the existing community of people on Instagram to provide wider support and find the appropriate help.

Biases leading to social media abuse

While on one hand, the proposition that social media is a boon or bane remains debatable, on the other hand in such a scenario, the inevitable need of the hour is ‘human discretion’: having the judgment enough to evaluate and question every information received from social media, for the benefit of self. Discretion and judgment come from knowledge and awareness of the mind and its games. Let’s understand some of the thinking biases that tend us towards social media abuse.

Survival of the fittest thinking: It’s a very common thinking bias that the one who is fittest survives adversities. So, if you are happy and successful, you are the fittest. Hence, most people share happiness, success and achievement stories on these platforms with the intent of appearing fittest, irrespective of the fact whether they are truly happy or unhappy at that point in time.

Compare and despair thinking: Another common thinking bias is comparison. Since people do not have any measuring instrument for the abstract concepts of life, they use the measure of comparing themselves to others in order to figure out where they stand. For example, seeing others constantly on holiday or enjoying night outs can make one feel like they are missing out while others enjoy life. This, in turn, leads to despair without true knowledge of reality.

Fight or flight thinking: Then comes the evolutionary perspective, if you cannot fight a situation then you escape the situation. When reality gets too harsh for people to bear, they escape to the virtual world where everything is seemingly true, perfect and under control.

In-power thinking: The human mind is constantly seeking power over people, places, situations, and life. Social media gives mind that power where people present their reality the way they like and to a wider audience. Hence, these seemingly not so real posts can also set unrealistic expectations and create feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem in others. For example, if someone suffering from a negative body image posts a perfect selfie edited with perfect chiseled features, it is bound to get perfect likes and feels perfectly okay at that moment being in perfect power. Others have not seen the negative body image hidden behind this perfect post, feel perfectly miserable!

Causes of social media dependence

Having understood the above thinking biases now, let’s further understand the psychological incentives that these thinking biases provide leading to social media dependence.

1) Anonymity: Nobody likes to raise eyebrows. Expressing desires or seeking gratification for the same becomes a lot easier when done anonymous, especially when the desires or needs are not so socially acceptable. These platforms provide the incentive of not revealing one’s identity and yet get one’s desires gratified.

2) Instant gratification: Nobody likes to wait. Nothing can be more motivating than instantly reaching out to a wider audience within a span of time. Day to day needs and requirements are even instantly met online. One does not have to make the effort of going out and seeking the same. The incentive of saving time effortlessly creates dependence on social media.

3) Excitement and amusement: Nobody likes boredom. The break that social media brings to a monotonous routine life can be impeccably amusing. The ease of access to various activities of interest over a single platform makes social media surfing one of the most sought-after leisure activities. The excitement of meeting new people from different backgrounds, race, and culture, and interacting with them over social networking sites and the recreational aspect of social media without having to travel to places is what creates its dependence.

4) Disinhibition: Nobody likes resistance. Social media provides an uninhibited outlet to express fantasies and curiosities. The privacy of access acts as the greatest motivating factor behind it. Creating someone different from ourselves over the internet, not only allows us to be something we are not but also to hide something we are. The general awkwardness involved in face to face interaction may be avoided, Self-disclosure and intimacy may be accelerated.

With these social platforms, come social issues as well. Rather than using it as a medium of communication, sharing and information, most people use it as a medium of vengeance, humiliation, attaining personal means and spreading misinformation, which they otherwise would not indulge in person.

Global access social media provides a global platform and hence one of the major instruments behind globalization. The ease of access to people, things, and information from any corner of the world make it convenient and effortless. The incentive of global access in a fraction of time is what makes social media so addictive.

How to spot social media addiction

When it comes to social media dependence or addiction, one of the biggest issues that people face is, what we at mfine call as, the “Dr. Internet Syndrome”. People often misdiagnose themselves and others of having social media addiction based on inadequate information on the internet. Under such a scenario, it is advisable to understand that addiction is a strong word to label. If you or a loved one meet at least five or more than five of the criteria below, observed for a time duration of one year or more, then you need to consult a professional for further assistance.

  1. You are constantly preoccupied with social media (think about a previous online activity or anticipate next online session)
  2. You are in a constant need to use social media with increased amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction
  3. You have made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop social media use. You are restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop internet use
  4. You have stayed online longer than originally intended
  5. You have risked the loss of a significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity due to excessive social media use
  6. You have lied to family members, therapist, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with social media
  7. You have used these platforms as a way of escaping from problems or relieving a persistently sad mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression)

We would conclude stating that personal discretion and being mindful of one’s habits are very important in order to decide when to stop social media overuse. The parental role is pivotal in the education of social media dependence, where parents are advised to teach their children the consequence of both use and overuse while helping them develop their own personal discretion. As educational systems are getting digitized day by day, it is important our educational authorities initiate lessons of safe social media use to be taught as course work. More and more professionals are encouraged to work with youth, be trained in digital and social media and authentic research to be conducted on the effects of social media on mental health. 

Let’s join hands to train ourselves and our youth to be prepared to nourish the innovation that the future holds and not perish in the process.

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