Social media has revolutionized the way in which people live, becoming a part of almost every individual’s daily routine. In 2016, global social networking audiences surpassed 2 billion users, and as of 2017, daily social media usage has gone up to 135 minutes (Statista, 2017). This shows that a significant amount of this generation’s growth and development is happening while on social media (O’Keeffe and Clarke-Pearson, 2011). Mental health can be described as the psychological and emotional state of a person’s well-being. Mental health problems can stem from various factors such as abuse and trauma, among others (Whitlock and Schantz, 2008). This essay will be focusing on is social media and some of its impacts on an individual’s mental health such as negative body image, low self-esteem, and even depression.
Social media contributes to the state of an individual’s mental health. Using social media can become a risk, especially to adolescents who are more vulnerable to the media they see online. The content found on these influential sites puts pressure on its users by allowing them to constantly feel the need to impress their peers and stay connected. Imaginative audience behavior is prevalent among these individuals, where they overestimate the number of people actually paying close attention to what they share online (Valkenburg, Peter, and Schouten, 2006), leaving them unnecessarily preoccupied and stressed by basing their self-worth on the number of likes and comments they have, as if it determines where they socially stand.
Platforms such as Facebook and Instagram were mainly developed to connect people, but it seems that these platforms have strayed from their purpose, encouraging mistrust, deception and social comparison to fester. With excess social media usage, adolescents are influenced to believe certain stigmas and ideal body images, which may subsequently lead to various impacts on their well-being. A study was done at the University of the West of England (Adcock, 2016) involving female participants. They were tasked to browse through different types of media; Facebook, a Cosmopolitan magazine and a craft website. Out of the medium presented, Facebook had the greatest effect on the selected participants, who had the greatest desire to change a particular part of their physical appearance. Based on the study, there is a clear correlation between mental health and social media and how an individual’s mindset can alter due to content they see online. Social media has numerous impacts on an individual’s mental health. Whether positive or negative, a person’s life can easily be dictated by what they see online.
Body image is the dynamic perception of one’s body (Adams et al. 2005), its foundation being different beliefs, influences, emotions and physical environment (ibid). An individual’s body image may vary depending on their current and specific predicament. Content such as body positive posts, for example, may send reassurance to users, leading to positive body image and self-love. Negative body images, on the other hand, are manifested through constant comparison between an individual and a peer’s most perfect side of themselves on these platforms. A survey conducted throughout the whole of the UK inclusive of 1,479-24-year-olds. The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) administered this survey to further understand how adolescents are generally impacted by different social media. In this study, the participants were asked to rank influential social media sites chosen by the RSPH, including: “Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and YouTube”, based on 14 factors given by the RSPH: “awareness and understanding of peers’ health experiences, access to reputable health information, emotional support, anxiety, loneliness, sleep quality, self-expression, self-identity, body image, real-world relationships, community building, bullying and lastly, the fear of missing out”. The RSPH then noted that Instagram had the largest negatively weighted score of -0.9 compared to the combined average of -0.45 of the other four platforms. Comparison thrives on Instagram. With over 800 million users monthly as of September 2017 (Statista, 2017), it is inevitable that some individuals will feel inferior to the stronger personalities online. An investigation done by Bush (2017) on self-presentation on Instagram explores the idea of young girls comparing their physical appearances with one another. Young girls hold onto an ideal body image and feel disheartened if they do not meet the standards they unconsciously built for themselves. While body image is not a mental health problem in itself, it can act as a trigger that can eventually lead to a variety of mental health issues.
As stated in the previous paragraph, body image can have various effects on mental health. One relevant impact is self-esteem. Self-esteem is an individual’s sense of self-worth. While it is not categorised as a mental health problem, it is crucial to an individual’s mental development (Mann et al., 2004). There is a clear linkage between self-esteem and mental well-being, where self-esteem may be viewed as a cause and mental health the effect. An individual with high esteem may lead a generally happy life because how they feel about themselves will reflect outwards into their actions which subsequently affect their future. An individual with low self-esteem, on the other hand, will tend to focus on weaknesses and creating negative thoughts, reducing their quality of life and in some cases, may even take a toll on their mental health (Burns, cited in Mann et al, 2004).
While users online are growing at a rapid speed, steps can be taken to alleviate the situation. Disconnecting from social media every now and then will promote a stress-free environment and without the pressure that comes with staying online, individuals are steered towards a more peaceful lifestyle. Building relationships in person can take a person’s mind off unnecessary thoughts that arise from excess usage and avoid isolation. Relationships become beneficial to individuals because it gives them a sense of reassurance. Furthermore, individuals can use time offline to focus on improving their capabilities and talents.