mental health and social media
Sep 20, 2016 — TrackFive

Mental Health and Social Media

Although social media hasn’t existed all that long, this hasn’t stopped it from affecting our emotions. Researchers at McMaster University claim that a new study shows a link between excessive social media usage and mental health issues. Their research suggests that internet addiction has a stronger influence than previously thought.

When it comes to mental health, we’ve definitely come a long way. However, our digital age presents new ways of coping with the constant influx of information that we’re only starting to understand now.

Internet Addiction, Mental Health, and You!

Surprisingly, the Internet Addiction Test (IAT) was developed back in 1998 for a previous study surveying 254 students at the University of Hamilton. Now, the recent study led by the chief researcher, Michael Van Ameringen has expanded the discussion using a newer scale design to include modern social media platforms and features.

Screening positive on the IAT and the researchers’ new scale, participants were deemed to have more difficulty dealing with their day-to-day activities. This is to say that the everyday tasks associated with life at home, work, school… really anywhere requiring sociability is a bit more problematic for people affected by problematic internet use.

In an interview with The Mirror, Ameringen said that “internet use has changed radically over the last 18 years, through more people working online, media streaming, social media, etc.”

The results of the study showed that 56% of university students had a difficult time controlling their use of video streaming websites, 48% percent couldn’t control their social media use, and 29% had trouble avoiding instant messaging apps.

Notably, 42% were facing mental health problems as either a direct or indirect result of their over-use of the internet.

“We were concerned that the IAT questionnaire may not have been picking up on problematic modern internet use, or showing up false positives for people who were simply using the internet rather than being over-reliant on it,” said Ameringen.

So how exactly do internet use and social media cause mental health issues? Let’s break it down:

Other studies have shown social media to be addictive in and of itself. It was found that 63% of Americans compulsively log onto Facebook daily, serving two basic purposes: distraction and relief from boredom. With “likes” and comments acting as positive reinforcement, our brains can actually become rewired in a sense, making it hard to stop!

Not only does social media get us hooked on digital affirmations, but it also has the ability to cause our self-esteem to suffer. Really, it’s no mystery that social media displays things in their idealized form – hence its continued usage in digital marketing – but that isn’t always healthy for people, especially adolescents.

Since the rise of anonymous chat rooms, forums, and social media in general, cyberbullying has become an enormous concern for our digitized youth. A survey conducted by internet safety organization, Enough is Enough found that 95% of teenagers who use social media have witnessed cyberbullying, with 33% being victims themselves.

Another study at the University of Michigan analyzed data from Facebook users and how their use of the site correlated with their moods. Overall, avid users reported lower satisfaction with their lives in general, due to things like the “fear of missing out” and by comparing themselves to others.

Sounds Pretty Grim So Far…

Now, before this post starts to depress you in some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, it’s important to note the positive things we’ve seen and can expect from social media.

Maybe you recall the story of the #dancingman last year – basically, when some cyberbullies posted pictures of Sean O’Brien dancing with a nasty caption after publically body-shaming him, a group of women from L.A. invited him to Hollywood for the dance party of a lifetime. Using social media, the event went viral to raise over $40,000 complete with celebrity endorsements and plenty of money going toward anti-cyberbullying charities.

So that’s positive, right? Other research has provided evidence for introverted adolescents actually gaining social skills by using social media. This is partly because they feel much safer behind a screen where there’s less room for error, even though writing is only one aspect of human communication. Dr. Larry D. Rosen who presented the findings also showed how those teens were able to express empathy on a consistent basis.

Clearly, social media is something that is as helpful as we make it, although we’re still feeling the growing pains of this young communicative format. And while it seems that mental health finds a new enemy all the time, the ability to stay connected may eventually prove to be our greatest ally on the digital front.

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