Social media has changed the way people interact with each other on a daily basis. In most cases, it has expanded users’ circle of contacts with peers and improved the ability to communicate with others on a broad range of subjects. However, social media can also come with a downside of online harassment, and excessive usage can lead to decreased feelings of self-worth and depression.
The Validation of Being Liked
Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram offer an immediate way to connect with a wide circle of friends, schoolmates, family and fellow hobbyists. In many ways, these outlets can provide positive opportunities to interact with others on a more frequent basis.
Using social media supplies instant positive feedback and “likes” or being “friended,” which can make use of these sites addictive. Research has shown that positive experiences on social media trigger the brain’s reward system in the same way as using drugs or alcohol.1
Social Media Influences Mental Health Negatively
But this same opportunity to receive immediate positive feedback can also bring unexpected negative commentary from individuals or groups of individuals that can be devastating.
Although it often seems easier to make friends on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, individuals sometimes find they have made enemies that troll them mercilessly, encouraging other people to leave negative comments that undermine one’s presence on the platform and one’s self-esteem in real life.
Many pre-teens and teenagers have found themselves the object of bullying on social media. Young people are sometimes targeted because of their shyness, sexual orientation, appearance, disability or other reasons. The negativity on social media influences mental health to such a degree, it may lead to suicidal behavior.
Limiting the Damage from Social Media
Parents can help their children control how social media influences mental health by limiting their activity on these sites. Also, teaching proper online etiquette can help reinforce positive behavior between peers, which can promote a positive influence.
Parents should also be alert to signs that participation on social media has taken a destructive turn. Encourage the child to disengage from the site and focus on their real-life activities. If signs of depression or poor self-esteem are evident, it may be beneficial to arrange for counseling to help the child create healthier frameworks for their self-image.2 Adults who have had negative online experiences can also benefit from counseling to help put negative emotions into perspective.
Social media participants also often take on a different persona online that may be happier, more successful or more outgoing than they are in real life. If you feel a significant difference between the way you project yourself on social media and how you actually feel, it may be time to make an appointment with a professional counselor to explore your authentic feelings and values.
If you or a loved one has experienced some of the destructive aspects of social media, professional counseling can help provide emotional support and therapy.