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How does Social Media affect Mental Health?

By Matt Lalande in Long-Term Disability, Wrongful Death on May 27, 2022

How does Social Media affect Mental Health?

Can social media lead to or exacerbate mental health issues? In our experience and based on our research, it certain can, especially to those who may have a tendency to spend more time online and reduce their real, face-to-face contact with other folks

During the past ten or twelve years, social networking has caused profound changes in the way people communicate and interact. Many of us today are incredibly addicted to social media and spend hours a day endlessly scrolling on platforms such as Tik Tok, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube, Instagram ect.  Over the past few years, researchers have studied the impact of social media addiction on various aspects of people’s lives and the end conclusions are all quite similar – the lack of social connection can pose serious risks to mental health and exacerbate pre-existing feelings of alienation, anxiety, and depression.

Social media outlets can never replace our real-world human connections. We need in-person companionship and human interaction with others.  We need real connections to progress with life, alleviate stress, anxiety, depression and to make us feel happier, healthier, and more be more positive.

Ironically, while social media is no doubt intended to bring users closer together, spending too much time engaging with Facebook or Tik Tok and other platforms can actually make you feel more lonely and isolated and can pose a serious risk to one’s mental and emotional health. In fact, some researchers have associated online social networking with several psychiatric disorders, including depressive symptoms, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

In addition to how spending too much time on social media can negatively impact our mental health, cyberbullying has also emerged as a major potential harm over the years, raising questions regarding its influence on mental health – particularly in younger people and the LGTBQ communities – who are often at risk of being targeted and bullied online.

Spending too much time online can contribute to mental health issues

Social media is a rapidly developing phenomenon.

First it was Facebook, then Twitter who took reign as the status update king. Then came Instagram, the world’s most popular photo and video-sharing social media application that was launched in 2010. Then came Tik Tok – which may now be the world’s most popular video sharing platform. With the rapid and increasing development of social networks, the time the kids and teens spend in front of their mobile devices had no doubt significantly increased, which in turn has led to the further reduction of amount of interpersonal communication both in the family and within their social environment. 

Now, there of course some benefits to social media- it allows teens to create online identities, communicate with others and build social networks. Social networking can no doubt provide teens with valuable support, especially helping those who experience exclusion or have disabilities or chronic illnesses.  But, conversely while social networks enable individuals to interact with a large number of people online, these interactions cannot adequately replace everyday face-to-face communication and even more importantly, spending too much time online can cause or contribute to anxiety or depression.

Just how much time do people spend on social media? The answer is nobody knows. There are numerous studies that hypothesize the amount of time spent on social media based on small populace studies – with no definitive worldwide answer. For example, the website “Broadband Search” indicated that on average, a study of their users showed that people spent 147 minutes – or two hours and twenty-seven minutes on social media each day. Website “Statistica.com” indicated that as of 2022, the average daily social media usage of internet users worldwide amounted to 147 minutes per day, up from 145 minutes in the previous year (2021).  The website “Globalstatistics.com” noted that on average, spend about 1.53 hours on social media daily. In Canada, the number of social media users in 2022 has increased to 33.3 million due to deep penetration of internet connectivity among people. The annual growth in active social media users is 3.4%, an increase of 1.1 million from 2021. Whatever the number is – it is a lot.

What impact does social media have on mental health?

In 2021, the journal, Nature of Depression, published an article entitled “The relationship between social media use and the factors relating to depression”.  The study focused on how social media is profoundly changing the way many people interact. They found significant positive correlations between higher anxiety levels and greater social media use. Similarly, higher depression levels were also associated with increased social media use and emotional investment in social media. 

Time and time again, studies point to the use of social media predicting poor mental health and well-being, particularly in teens. For example, social comparison and feedback seeking by teens using social media has been found to link with depressive symptoms. In addition, because most people only tend to post the “happy times” with social media causing many users who use social media passively, such as by just viewing others’ photos, have reported declines in life satisfaction.  

Teens can also be negatively affected if social media provides that they are excluded from certain friendships or activities.

In addition, the so called “culture of comparison” can negatively affect a teen’s mental health and contribute to overall unhappiness by the inevitable constant social comparison of themselves to others.  The culture of comparison can lead to jealousy, envy, self-esteem issues and complete and total feelings of inadequacy with one’s self.

Another reason in which social media can contribute to anxiety is simply the fact that many teens are emotionally invested in their social media accounts. Many teens feel pressure to get back to others or respond immediately. For most, there is no time for delay. Many teens feel the need to respond quickly and are also pressured to post perfect images – often images that they take over and over again – until they get the “perfect” one. Many teens are invested in photo editing apps to ensure that the photos are as perfect as can be before posting.

Many teens also feel the pressure to write the “perfect response” or “perfect answer”. One study published in the journal “Psychiatry News” notes that the larger the teen’s social media circle, the more anxiety they feel due to the pressure to keep up with everyone. Lastly – and most devastating, if a teen makes a “faux-pas” online by posting the wrong thing or the wrong photo – the online response can be devastating.

Another thing to consider is that when teens spend so much time on their mobile devices they lose sleep. Social media has been linked time and time again with worse sleep quality and higher levels of anxiety and depression.   Accordingly, sleep deprivation can lead to irritability, grumpiness, academic difficulties or problems in school, overeating, the lack of exercise as well as exacerbate pre-existing clinical problems like depression, anxiety, or ADHD.

Anxiety and Social Media

Anxiety can be the result of more time spent on social media and less time spent invested in “real life” relationships

Research on the impact of face-to-face contact on mental health indicates that people who regularly have in-person gatherings with family or friends are much less likely to report depression or anxiety. Unfortunately, multiple studies show that screen time (time spent on devices like laptops, tablets and smartphones) and time spent online are both on the rise. As their online life becomes more important, experiences like cyberbullying become that much more damaging to teenagers and young adults. 

Less sleep can contribute to anxiety

A UK study on social media done in 2018 showed that social media users had less overall sleep compared to the average person and that their sleep was of lower quality. Adequate sleep is important for overall health, and a lack of sleep can mean poor mind-body connection and the possibility of developing anxiety, depression and other physical and mental issues. 

Feelings of loneliness increase with social media usage, and can lead to anxiety

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania in the US found that increased use of different social media platforms actually made users feel more lonely. On the flip side, the study showed that users who decreased the amount of social media they used felt less alone and felt that the time spent away from social media helped them manage their negative feelings and anxiety. Social media users who spend more time online are more likely to experience cyberbullying and are less mentally prepared to deal with the stress and anxiety that comes as a result of it.

Addiction to social media can make someone prone to anxiety as a result of cyberbullying

A number of activities that are central to the social media experience – checking messages, noticing and responding to notifications and repeatedly scrolling and refreshing – contribute to increased feelings of addiction, which can, in turn, fuel feelings of anxiety and depression. While there’s currently no research that can directly link social media to anxiety and other mental disorders, related factors like cyberbullying have been connected to developing anxiety and depression.

Social media and work make the worst combination for someone with anxiety

In 2010, Statistics Canada reported that 62% of workers who reported that they were experiencing high levels of stress said that the greatest cause of stress in their life was work. A majority of these respondents were highly educated and working well-paying jobs.

The study showed that these working individuals who were experiencing high levels of stress were at greater risk of developing other stress-related issues such as depression and anxiety. The most significantly affected group were younger female professionals who spent the most time on social media and were subject to the greatest amount of pressure from the social media content consumed online

Working with anxiety

For someone with anxiety, going about your day at the office is like trying to tiptoe through a minefield. It is an isolating experience to consciously avoid the triggers for your anxiety, while your colleagues can’t seem to figure out the reason for your hesitance. 

Fear, silence and suffering: the experience of anxiety

For many individuals, explaining your anxiety to others is also a non-option; for some, because the fear of rejection can be in itself overwhelming, and for others, to avoid experiences of humiliations suffered in the past. 

The silence of working people who live with anxiety on a daily basis can mean that anxiety is one of the most misunderstood conditions in the workplace. It’s one thing to have a visible physical condition or injury, but it’s another thing to explain to your adult coworkers that you have a crippling fear of an experience or person.

Different types of anxiety hit differently for different people

For some individuals, not being able to deal with anxiety can leave them feeling helpless. An anxiety attack in the office – a temporary moment of severe anxiety during which you might experience heart palpitations or have trouble breathing – can be both terrifying and embarrassing to experience. 

Anxiety is a challenging disability to overcome for anybody. The source of the anxiety becomes the all-important focus of attention for that individual when the focus should be the work that they and their team are attempting to complete. Someone with anxiety can appear like they are distracted, unfocused or unmotivated to work, when in fact it may be all they can do not to run out of the office and remove themselves from the situation.

Remember to breathe, sleep and take it a step at a time

It can be frustrating to have anxiety at the workplace, particularly if your coworkers or employers are not sympathetic to your situation. Before you’re able to find a more permanent solution for your situation, there are different techniques that can make it easier for someone with anxiety to get through a working day:

– Remember to breathe. Deep breathing techniques can help calm the mind and can be completed in 1-2 minutes. Finding a safe space – seated in your parked car, or in a quiet corner of the office – to complete a deep breathing exercise before starting your working day can help you refocus yourself and be conscious of controlling your negative thoughts. 

– Ensure that you have enough sleep. Sufficient sleep of good quality helps the body refresh itself and allows you to approach your daily challenge of managing your anxiety with the best chance for success. 

– Take everything a step at a time. Anxiety is an extreme version of fear and trying to stay in control is one way to prevent situations from unravelling out of your control. Moving slower and with intention can help you stay in control of your actions, which can contribute to staying on top of your anxiety. 

Cyberbullying: adding anxiety to teenagers online

The more time that teens spend on social media, the more susceptible they are to peer pressure, cyberbullying and sexting.

Cyberbullying, also referred to as internet bullying or social media bullying, is defined as repeatedly and intentionally embarrassing, intimidating, humiliating, threatening, harassing or harming another via electronic means. Cyberbullying happens much, much more often on social media – but cyber-bullying can also be accomplished via email, text messages, websites, video games, videos or other forms of electronic communication.  While some believe electronic bullying is simply part of growing up or is a passing fad that does not cause any real or long-lasting harm, studies suggest the effects of online bullying may be longer lasting than traditional bullying. Those targeted by electronic bullying may suffer from low self-esteem, anger, depression and even suicide.

The ease of use of social media makes it that much easier for cyberbullying to happen, particularly between teenagers within the same social circle or peer group. In addition, the high percentage of social media users being teenagers and young adults means that a large number of cyberbullying cases involve teenagers and young adults, cases that can even escalate to cyberstalking or real-life abuse. 

Although adults can equally be victims of cyberbullying, teenagers are much more susceptible to lasting psychological harm as a result of cyberbullying, for a number of different reasons: 

  • Teenagers are typically more emotional and more prone to make decisions based on those emotions, which can make cyberbullying that much more hurtful in the moment. 
  • There also tends to be greater importance placed on a teenager’s public self-image, making cyberbullying a particularly embarrassing experience to have to go through. 
  • The teenage years are also a time when teenagers are transitioning into adulthood. Teenagers may attempt to handle the cyberbullying alone, without the support of their support network (e.g. parents, teachers and friends), in an effort to show maturity. 

As a result, there are direct links between cyberbullying and the development of mental disorders among teenagers: 

  • 41% of teenagers who were cyberbullied developed social anxiety. 
  • 37% developed depression
  • 26% reported considering suicide
  • 14% developed an eating disorder
  • 9% began substance abuse (alcohol or drugs)

Developing anxiety as a young adult or teenager can mean the beginning of a lifetime dealing with a mental disorder which can affect someone’s ability to be productive at work and have positive interpersonal relationships.

What are some examples of Cyber-Bullying?

When it comes to cyberbullying, there are various ways to embarrass, intimidate, harass, threaten or ridicule another person via electronic means, such as:  

  • Creating websites to purposely embarrass or make fun of someone else
  • Participating in websites that rate or berate others – who are the ugliest, fat- test, dumbest, etc.
  • Tricking others into revealing personal information then posting and/or sending the information to others.
  • Pretending to be someone else
  • Purposely provoking someone while another person videotapes the incident and then posting the video online
  • Taking, sending or uploading embarrassing or explicit photographs or videos of someone else
  • Sending or posting a threatening, mean or hurtful email, text message or video and
  • Forwarding private or personal information or photographs to others

What are some warning signs of cyber-bullying?

Whether bullying occurs via traditional methods or electronic means, bullying can cause long lasting and serious consequences. Since most teens do not tell a trusted adult if they are a victim of electronic bullying, it is crucial that parents and educators recognize the warning signs and symptoms of electronic bullying.  The following list provides clues and insight in determining if your teen may be at risk:

  • He or she may suddenly be reluctant to use the computer or electronic device or stop altogether
  • Your teen may display unusual anger, sadness or depression after using the computer or electronic device
  • He or she may be nervous, anxious or jumpy when receiving an email or text message
  • He or she may exhibit unusual mood swings.
  • Your teen become unusually withdrawn or depressed.
  • Your teen may have trouble sleeping or exhibits other sleeping disturbances
  • He or she may show a decline in school grades
  • He or she may not want to go to school
  • Your teen may have an unusual interest in self-harm or in suicide
  • Your teen may become reclusive, withdrawn and lose friends
  • He or she may suddenly change friends or
  • Your teen may no longer want to participate in family or school activities.

Social Media us and it’s Connection to Mental Health

There’s no doubt that social media is caused profound changes in the way people interact. Unfortunately, there been many studies over the past decade which are quite conclusive in determining that there is a connection between social networking overuse and depressive symptoms, changes in self-esteem, the onset of anxiety, feelings of inferiority, feelings of jealousy, decreased self-esteem and other psychiatric illnesses.

While social media has no doubt given rise to elaborate virtual communications between friends, families, strangers and created a sense of community, is has also served as a platform for troubling and disturbing occurrences such as cyberbullying – which for some victims, can turn to ultimate tragedy such as suicide and self-harm. Contrary to popular, Ontario laws make it possible for surviving members a deceased person who committed suicide due to severe emotional distress caused by cyberbullying to hold cyberbullies liable for the wrongful death. The problem with these cases, is that many parents don’t know that their teen is either bullying or being bullied and quite often do not have the chance to stop or intervene in the situation. It is relatively easy to sue, but difficult in terms of proving wrongful death caused by Siebel in, unless the facts are clear and concise.

If you’ve lost a loved one do desirable in, or in turn, if you suffer from severe psychiatric illness caused by either the loss of a loved one or being cyber-bullied and are no longer able to work, you may be entitled to long-term disability benefits. If you have applied for long-term disability benefits and have been wrongfully denied or cut off your long-term disability benefits, we can help.

Call us today to discuss your situation, no matter where you are in Ontario at 1-844-LALANDEtell or local throughout the Southern Ontario region at 905-333-8888 today. Alternatively you can contact us confidentially be email through out website and a member of our firm will get right back to you.

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