Nowadays social media has become an essential part of life for the majority of the American population. We use it to communicate with friends and family, share ideas and information, host events, share pictures and videos, and much more. While social media has allowed for increased communication and connection, it has also caused new and significant mental health challenges society is still learning to navigate. Social media has directly influenced the way our culture has changed in the last two decades, but not always for the better. In many cases, people are beginning to realize the deep impact that social media has on their mental health, both good and bad. Here are some ways in which social media affects mental health.
Social media has a reinforcing nature. Using it activates the brain’s reward center by releasing dopamine, a “feel-good chemical” linked to pleasurable activities such as sex, food, and social interaction. The platforms are designed to be addictive and are associated with anxiety, depression, and even physical ailments. To boost self-esteem and feel a sense of belonging in their social circles, people post content with the hope of receiving positive feedback. Couple that content with the structure of potential future reward, and you get a recipe for constantly checking platforms.
Experts have not been in total agreement on whether internet addiction is a real thing, let alone social media addiction, but there’s some good evidence that both may exist. A review study from Nottingham Trent University looked back over earlier research on the psychological characteristics, personality and social media use. The authors conclude that “it may be plausible to speak specifically of ‘Facebook Addiction Disorder’…because addiction criteria, such as neglect of personal life, mental preoccupation, escapism, mood modifying experiences, tolerance and concealing the addictive behavior, appear to be present in some people who use [social networks] excessively.
Social media is designed to satisfy your curiosity and desire to be entertained. Psychologically, notifications and “likes” target the part of our brain that handles emotions and pleasure. Receiving them or waiting to receive them triggers the anticipation and release of dopamine, the human “happy hormone.” Dopamine creates a positive association to the social media you’re seeing, but it also ensures that you come back for more. This means that social media can become a big distraction to work and productivity, as people consistently chase the feeling that social media gives them. It can lead to heightened positive emotions and self-esteem, it can lead to negative emotions and self-talk, or it can do both. Many scientists are now saying that it’s possible to become addicted to this feeling.
Social media use has been on the rise since its debut in 1995. As it has grown, more people have started using it as a news source. According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted between August 31 and September 7, 2020, about 53% of adults in the U.S. get their news from social media.
ResearchTrusted Source indicates that social media can help effectively communicate health information to a global audience during a public health crisis. However, the information shared on these platforms can sometimes be inaccurate or misleading.
For example, one research review published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research looked at social media posts before March 2019 and found that Twitter contained the most health misinformation — mostly about smoking products and drugs.