It’s 2023. We’ve had a good decade or so of social media being a fairly central part of our lives. During this time, it’s not only the way we consume media that’s changed; it’s the way we communicate, the way we conduct business, the way we live. In fact, you’d be pretty hard pressed to find an element of our daily lives that isn’t different today than it was 20 years ago due to the presence of social media.
Given its monumental influence, it’s not surprising that there’s been much commentary on the impact of social media on our mental health over the past few years.
Back in the 2010s, it was perhaps slightly easier to pigeon-hole social media as having a solely negative impact on its users’ mental health. When you’re constantly confronted by your peers apparently #LIVINGMYBESTLIFE, it’s natural to feel somewhat inadequate. Comparison is the thief of all joy, as they say.
By this point, we pretty much all know this. You’d be hard-pressed to find something that provides instant gratification quite like social media. It’s a holy grail for young, impressionable people searching for validation, and notoriously breeds the possibility of FOMO (fear of missing out).
But as social media continues to spread its influence into every crevice of our lives and the wider world, can the conclusion really be that simple? Is it really as black and white as: social media = bad, real life = good?
Can we really reduce the phenomenon of the online world to such a binary, straightforward conclusion?
It’s hard to ignore the irony of users calling out social media for negatively impacting mental health while posting on the platforms themselves. You also have to consider the fact that the main reason mental health has become less stigmatised over the past decade is undoubtedly social media. The fact that mental illness is no longer such a taboo topic has helped millions of people come to terms with their issues, be more open and even seek treatment. We also all saw how useful social media can be in times of crisis during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Of course, the impact of social media on your wellbeing is primarily going to come down to how you’re using it, and what you’re choosing to consume online. Saying that social media is bad for your mental health is similar to proposing that in-person socialising is mentally damaging.
Just as certain people and interactions will likely have a negative impact on you, some content you consume will be similarly detrimental. However, if you’re conscious in your user habits; if you take time to carefully curate your following list and are mindful of the risk you pose yourself by consuming unhealthy content, at best you’ll be absolutely dandy, at worst, better protected.
In fact, one quality of social media that acts as both a problem and a benefit is that it’s ‘emotionally contagious’. As such, those who choose to consume happy, uplifting content will likely find that it has a positive impact on their wellbeing and mood.
And then, there’s the main purpose of social media.
Behind all the memes, trends and audios - there’s the whole SOCIAL element, which, ironically, tends to get a little lost in the chaos from time to time.
At the end of the day, social media connects people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to connect, bridging the communication gap brought on by physical distance, which can be a huge cause for loneliness and isolation.
Social media can be your greatest ally or your biggest foe; it’s one big paradox – the things that make it amazing and revolutionary are the very same things that can cause so much damage. The question as to whether or not social media is bad for mental health depends primarily on the intention and methods of the user, as well as the quantity of time they’re spending online.