Is Social Media Bad for Mental Health? Statistics and More

“Is social media bad for mental health?” This question is no longer a myth. Increasingly, studies are providing solid evidence that social media can have harmful effects on people’s psychological well-being.

Since digital screens surround us everywhere, we can’t ignore its impact. Let’s explore some alarming statistics on social media and mental health, see how social media affects young adults, and provide tips to foster mental wellness in the digital age.

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How does social media affect your mental health?

On the digital pathway, the line between our online and offline lives becomes blurred.

Social media platforms have become an essential part of our daily routines, offering ways for communication, self-expression, and entertainment. However, the psychological effects of social media have their downsides.

Multiple research studies have suggested a correlation between social media and mental health issues. Answering the question, “How does social media impact mental health?” takes us down a complex path.

We need to delve into the frequency, duration, and nature of social media usage. Besides that, we need to determine how these factors interact with each other to shape the user’s mental health.

Statistics on social media and mental health

Numerous studies provide important insight into the relationship between social media and mental health. To better understand the landscape, let’s examine some vital statistics on social media and mental health.

A noteworthy report from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) uncovers some significant trends.

From 2005 to 2017, the rates of major depressive episodes increased by 52 percent among adolescents aged 12 to 17. In young adults aged 18 to 25, there was a 63 percent increase from 2009 to 2017 (1).

It’s known that social media usage has consistently grown during this period. According to data from the Pew Research Center, around 17 percent of the U.S. population was using social media in 2009. By 2017, this figure had risen to around 69 percent (2).

Globally, the trend was similar. According to data from Statista, in 2010, around 0.97 billion people were using social media worldwide. By 2017, this number had grown to approximately 2.46 billion. Additionally, they estimate there will be around 5.85 billion social media users by 2027 (3).

Thus, the researchers attributed this steady rise in mood disorders to the rise of electronic communication and digital media as one contributing factor (1). 

Another study found that during the COVID-19 quarantine, excessive social media use increased the likelihood of anxiety and depression symptoms by 55 percent and 43 percent, respectively (4).

Furthermore, another research study suggests that not only can the amount of time spent on social media cause anxiety and depression, but the way you use it can do so, too. They identified two patterns: “Wired” (heavy, problematic use) and “Connected” (high engagement without problems). Both patterns were linked to higher chances of experiencing depression and anxiety (5).

A survey published in the journal Depression and Anxiety, involving 1,787 respondents, found that heavy social media users were over three times more likely to experience symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder than minimal users. This finding included factors like the number of platforms used and total time spent on social media. (6).

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Psychological effects of social media on mental health

When we explore the effects of social media on mental health, many elements become apparent.

One significant effect is the “comparison culture.” Think about a user who frequently consumes content where they perceive themselves as inferior to the ones they follow on social media (upward social comparison). Due to the sense of inferiority, they are likely to experience negative mental health outcomes. 

Studies show that frequent social comparisons on social media can lead to feelings of depression, lower self-esteem, and body dissatisfaction (7, 8).

Additionally, the addictive nature of likes and shares on social media can lead to harmful use and mental health issues. This issue often fuels loneliness and social isolation by reducing real-world interactions. 

In fact, a University of Pennsylvania study supports this, demonstrating that students who limited their social media use experienced less loneliness and depression than those who did not (9).

Moreover, social media usage can lead to disrupted sleep patterns. The unlimited new content on social media encourages users to keep scrolling, often at the expense of much-needed sleep (10, 11).

Consequently, poor sleep can cause numerous mental health problems, including an increased risk of depression and anxiety.

Social media’s impact on mental health is complex and significant as our digital and real lives become increasingly intertwined. Studies have shown that more social media use, and the ways we use it, can heighten the risks of anxiety and depression. Moreover, the social media culture of comparison and the addictive nature of instant likes and shares can lead to lower self-esteem, depression, and isolation. It’s also been found that excessive screen time can disrupt sleep patterns, which in turn may worsen mental health issues.

How social media affects mental health in youth?

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As digital natives, today’s youth are navigating a world where online interactions are as real as offline ones. However, according to multiple researches, high levels of social media use in teenagers and young adults correlate with an increased risk of mental health issues. 

One research suggests that the more time young people spend on platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, or TikTok, the more they can feel disconnected from real-world social interactions, potentially leading to feelings of loneliness and depression (12).

The increasing body dysmorphia issue among youth is another negative outcome. A study highlighted that exposure to idealized body images on social media may cause body dissatisfaction and lead to eating disorders among young adults (13).

The rise of cyberbullying is another major concern. The Cyberbullying Research Center found that over 15.7 percent of teenagers have been victims of cyberbullying, a figure that rose with the rise of social media (14).

Furthermore, social media might affect sleep quality in young people. A study in the United Kingdom, involving over 11,000 young people, found that the increased social media use resulted in multiple poor sleep quality indicators (15).

How can I help my teen?

If you’re a parent to teenagers and are concerned about the potential harms of social media, here are some valuable tips to guide your teens towards healthier mental well-being.

Start by keeping an open conversation with your teens about the impacts of social media. This way, you will help them realize that online posts are often just the highlight of someone’s life, not their entire reality. This insight can shield them from unhealthy comparisons that might trigger feelings of insecurity.

Besides that, balance their time spent online with real-world activities. Some quality time with family not only fosters a strong sense of self but also boosts their self-esteem.

Finally, reassure them that it’s normal to feel overwhelmed by social media content and that they can always count on your support. Providing this safe space where they can express their feelings and concerns is crucial for supporting their mental well-being.

In today’s digital era, young people face considerable mental health challenges due to extensive social media use. High exposure to platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression, body image issues, cyberbullying, and disrupted sleep. For parents, encouraging open discussions about social media, balancing online and offline activities, and providing a supportive environment are key to helping their teens maintain healthy mental well-being.

Pros: How is social media good for mental health? 

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While there’s a lot of discussion about the negative effects, it’s also worth asking: how is social media good for mental health?

In fact, multiple studies have pointed out why social media can be good for mental health in a sense. Like with everything, you always have two sides of the same coin.

The most profound way social media affects our well-being is that it allows us to connect and share experiences, especially with those going through similar life challenges.

Moreover, social media has revolutionized how we access health-related information. Platforms like Instagram and Facebook are full of mental health resources and supportive communities. They offer coping strategies, help reduce the shame around mental health issues, and make it easier for us to reach out for help when needed. 

According to a report by the Pew Research Center, 74 percent of people use the Internet to seek health information and improve their understanding of particular conditions. A small subset of them use social media sites or blogs to follow people with similar conditions (16).

Apart from that, the role of social media as a platform for self-expression should not be underestimated. It allows us to share our thoughts, feelings, and experiences, which can foster a greater understanding of ourselves and our emotions. This aspect helps us with self-awareness and personal growth.

These benefits of social media on mental health, however, must be accompanied by mindful and responsible usage.

Balance and mindful usage are the key, especially when navigating the world of social media. If we use it consciously, as a tool rather than a puppet controlling us, we can harness its positive aspects. 

Tips to improve mental well-being in the digital age

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Navigating social media’s impact on our mental well-being isn’t always straightforward. However, adopting a mindful and intentional approach can significantly improve your experiences. Here are some evidence-based strategies to enhance your mental health in the digital world:

  1. Limit your screen time: By setting screen time boundaries—say, no social media after 9 pm—you can maintain a healthier balance. Both Android and iOS devices offer built-in features to monitor and control your screen time, making this task easier to manage.
  2. Follow accounts that inspire you: You are what you consume. Follow accounts that provide value—those that inspire, motivate, educate, and uplift you.
  3. Disconnect to reconnect: Regular digital detoxes can help maintain a healthy relationship with social media. Whether it’s a daily hour of no-screen time or a weekend offline, these breaks can help recharge your mental energy.
  4. Engage rather than observe: Passive scrolling or “lurking” has been associated with decreased mood and increased depression. Try to actively participate in discussions, comment on posts, and engage with friends and communities online.
  5. Use social media mindfully: If you notice feelings of envy, loneliness, or dissatisfaction creeping in, take a moment to reflect on these feelings, and think about stepping away for a bit.

These tips are not one-size-fits-all solutions, but starting points for developing healthier habits. Our goal is to use social media as a tool for connection and enrichment rather than allowing it to become a source of stress or negativity.

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What is the correlation between social media and mental health? 

A systematic review examining 39 research articles found that excessive social media use, especially among vulnerable individuals, correlates with depression and other mental health disorders (17).

What are the benefits of limiting social media use?

Limiting social media use can make a difference for mental well-being. A decrease in screen time is linked to lower levels of anxiety and depression. 

Furthermore, it can improve sleep quality, a factor directly tied to our mood and cognitive function. 

Finally, stepping away from digital interactions can enhance real-world, face-to-face connections, often leading to more authentic and fulfilling social experiences.

What are 10 bad things about social media?

Some negative aspects of social media include cyberbullying, privacy concerns, increased anxiety and depression, unrealistic expectations, negative body image, unhealthy sleep patterns, FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), addictive behaviors, reduced face-to-face social interaction, and disruptive behavior.

What are the top 3 dangers of social media?

The top three dangers include cyberbullying, privacy issues, and the potential for increased anxiety and depression.

What is the most toxic social media platform in 2024?

Identifying the most “toxic” social media platform is subjective, so we don’t have a definite answer to this question.

Yet, sites like Instagram or TikTok, which focus on pictures and videos, often show unrealistic ideas of beauty. This might cause body dissatisfaction and low self-esteem, while potentially leading to anxiety and depression. 

It’s important to remember that social media presents polished versions of life, not reality. Nowadays, with the increased use of AI for image edits, distinguishing truth from fiction becomes unclear. Besides that, this new development may also affect how people perceive reality.

Summary

Numerous studies and statistics on social media and mental health caution us about its potential dangers. Increased use of these platforms has been linked to higher rates of anxiety, depression, and disrupted sleep.

The youth are particularly vulnerable, with higher exposure leading to feelings of social isolation, body dissatisfaction, and cyberbullying. Parents can help them by encouraging communication and providing a safe space for them to express their feelings.

However, we shouldn’t view social media as completely bad. Mindful and balanced use of social media can foster connection, provide support, and enhance self-awareness.

So, is social media bad for mental health?

Not at all costs. However, as digital citizens, we should engage with social media responsibly and understand the effects of social media on mental health. Setting boundaries on screen time, following positive influences, and taking regular digital detoxes can safeguard our mental well-being.

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Amy20MD 1

Medical reviewed by Amy Rogers, MD MPH FACPM

Preventive Medicine, Public Health, Lifestyle Medicine, Pandemic Response, Global Health

Amy20MD 1

Medical reviewed by Amy Rogers, MD MPH FACPM

Preventive Medicine, Public Health, Lifestyle Medicine, Pandemic Response, Global Health

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