All inventions and technologies have myriads of applications. These applications can be detrimental, positive, or both. For instance, nuclear energy can be a cause of mass destruction, but it also uses it as an alternative energy source. Computers are dangerous when they are in the hands of a hacker. But the same computers have brought convenience to human beings in various professions. On the side of an amateur, even medicine can be poisonous. Social media is no exception to this premise.
Social media is a tool for empowering the young generation. It helps them maintain social connections and access a wide range of information. A troubled youth can quickly seek help on the internet and find support from any caring individual. Sometimes, it turns total strangers into our badly-needed friends. Young people discover a refreshed sense of belonging, attachment, and self-worth on social networking websites. Adolescents use social media for social connectivity, social relationships, and humor/entertainment.
But social media also harms people’s mental health. Research shows there’s an interesting connection between mental health and excessive use of the internet. A study last year revealed that one-third of Americans believed social media was dangerous for mental health. It encourages us to learn how we can use social networking websites to support mental health. What actions can we take to make social media safer for people with psychological problems? Let’s find out.
HOW SOCIAL MEDIA SUPPORTS MENTAL HEALTH?
The relation between social media and mental health can be that of harmony or discord. This harmony depends upon sensible, responsible, and productive usage of the internet. Studies show that YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat are the most popular networking platforms among adolescents. It’s no surprise that social media usage among teenagers is drastically increasing. In 2018, 70% of teenagers checked their smartphones more than once a day. Nearly half of them admitted they were always online. Let’s see what benefits social media has brought into the lives of distressed youngsters.
- Mouthpiece to the entire world: You can share your thoughts, opinions, and concerns on social platforms. It lets you spread awareness about a particular problem you’re facing. People with social anxiety can fearlessly express themselves in online chatrooms. There are plenty of groups for various campaigns on Reddit where you can meet like-minded fellows. Introverts don’t need to live in the closet anymore.
- Polishes your presentation skills: Debates and discussions on various social websites are quite ordinary nowadays. Just pick any topic on Twitter or Facebook, and you’ll find multiple threads focusing on that particular subject. Talking to strangers on social media polishes your social skills. It helps you understand another person’s perspective and how to engage people in meaningful conversations. Young people can learn how to function effectively in a community and become productive members of society.
- Quick access to information: You can spend hours reading books, articles, and research papers on mental health issues. But, on social networking websites, you can simply watch a YouTube video shared by someone. These videos can directly answer your specific questions and save you the trouble of extensive research. Adolescents suffering from mental problems can access a handsome amount of literature online. Social media helps them meet people with relevant information and experience. Books aren’t the lone source of knowledge; sometimes, the right person can teach you a lot more.
- Online social support: Social groups allow people with similar problems to console each other mutually. Online social support has many benefits over the physical one. It is convenient, provides anonymity, and includes harmless interactions. People can express themselves without the fear of being judged for having mental disorders. Social media offers online support for people who have breast cancer, anxiety, or depression. Studies show that people who communicated online about their psychological issues were able to cope with their mental ailments. A 2016 research shows that there’s a definite connection between online social support and subjective well-being among adolescents. If you pretend it’s an actual social community, you’ll be able to communicate confidently in these online interactions. Members of an online weight-loss community reported in 2009 that internet social support helped them overcome obesity.
- More openness than the real world: It can be challenging to adjust in the real world sometimes. Some cultures/regions consider the subject of mental illness to be a taboo. People can get quickly uncomfortable when someone mentions his/her deteriorating mental health. Talking to people when you’re contemplating self-harm isn’t that simple. The internet provides a relatively open platform for people having a mental breakdown. On social media, you didn’t feel alone, stigmatized, and shunned. That is because they all share their psychological issues. Websites on social networking offer a forum for people to address things deemed as sensitive or embarrassing. If people feel awkward, they can just go anonymous and then express themselves without hesitation.
Quick tips for practical usage of social media:
There are a few things you should remember when you’re using social media. It’s a digital replica of the real world. It seeks to provide you with a temporary escape from the limitations of society. But the attraction for social media shouldn’t turn into a fascination. Here are some brief tips to help you use social networking websites effectively and harmlessly:
- Be yourself: The internet makes some people invent a different personality for themselves. The need to be loved becomes a fixation, and people start misrepresenting themselves online. Always remember to be yourself. Act online the way you do in the real world. Don’t show a false image of yourself for a few shares or retweets. Inauthentic self-promotion isn’t healthy for your mental stability and personal well-being.
- Ignore trolls and bullies: Trolls and bullies have always existed on the internet. There’s no need to let a few ignorant comments harm your mental health. Remember the South Park episode in which some lowlifes trolled the entire country of Denmark. Trolls get on your nerves when you pay attention to their “jokes” and taunts. The opinions of bullies don’t matter. They just annoy people because it feels hilarious to them. It’s pretty much standard now for people to do/say inappropriate and irresponsible stuff online. The smartest reaction is to ignore trolling and focus only on the cooperative exchange of ideas.
- Don’t isolate from the real world: Don’t let social media distract you from your surroundings. The realm of the internet isn’t a substitute for your family and friends. Calling your mom on Whatsapp is fine. But visit her occasionally to maintain a human connection. Following your high school friends’ Instagram stories isn’t enough. Try hanging out with them more often. Social media cannot fulfill/replace the basic human craving for connection and belonging.
- It shouldn’t be an obsession: Obsessions are unhealthy if they’re not productive. Internet obsession isn’t productive at all. It’s just a sluggish pastime that yields nothing but costs you some precious moments from life. If social media is disrupting your sleep pattern, it’s not healthy. If it’s making you miss work, you have a severe problem. FOMO (Fear of missing out) is a mental weakness (but not an illness). It forces you to jump at the sound of notification and continuously check your smartphone for updates. You feel the urge to respond to unnecessary developments in social media needlessly. Such usage of networking platforms is dangerous.
Are there any harmful effects of social media on mental health? Social media does promote cyber-bullying and harassment. But its role in creating a positive environment for troubled adolescents is also essential. Anything is dangerous if used excessively and pointlessly. In 2019, APA discovered that 38% of Americans thought social media was harmful to mental health. But 45% believed it had both positive and negative impacts on a person’s psychological stability. You can use networking platforms to connect with the whole world and share your problems with them. You’ll find the digital world more open to discussing mental disorders and providing online social support. You just need to be yourself, avoid excessive usage of the internet, and ignore trolls. If someone cyber-bullies you, there’s always the option to report the offender. With a proper understanding of social media, it can promise you improved mental health and stability.