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Living in the 21st Century: Social Media’s Impact on Mental Health and Well-being

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If you’re anything like me – or most Americans – the first thing you do when you get out of bed in the morning is check your phone: for updates, for statuses, for anything and everything. It seems like our entire life revolves around our phones. In today’s digital world, they allow us to do almost anything. With the opening of an app, you can deposit a check, order a latte at Starbucks, hail a ride to the store, forgo a ride to the store to shop at home, or most likely, navigate the multitude of social media sites that have become our way of life.

In the United States, nearly two-thirds of all Americans use social media, and this number increases among teens and young adults; 78% of 18-24-year-olds use Snapchat, 71% use Instagram, and 68% use Facebook (Pew Research Center, 2018).

We’re drawn to its convenience and excited about the prospect of other people sharing and commenting on our posts.

But for all the glamor, excitement, and hoopla surrounding social media, there is a dark side.

Research has found that the persistent use of social media increases the likelihood of depression and anxiety (Twenge et al., 2018). Social media is widely associated with cyberbullying, leads to feelings of loneliness and being left out, and causes us to make unfavorable and unrealistic comparisons, each of which negatively impacts our sense of happiness and well-being.

Social Media’s Impact on Anxiety and Depression

While the younger crowd is more susceptible to the influence of social media, the extent to which social media is inserted into our lives is a bigger cause for concern. Unlike laptops or desktops, smartphones allow instantaneous access into the intimate lives of anyone with a social media account, so we’re set up to continually compare ourselves to others from the moment we wake up to when we go to bed.

A simple scroll through someone’s Instagram or Facebook profile will likely lead you to make broad conclusions about his life and where it’s headed.

Nice car, he must have a better job than me.

His girlfriend’s prettier than mine.

I wish I could go on some of those exotic vacations he constantly posts.

Nothing is ever good enough.

I was reminded just how true this is while perusing my own Facebook account not too long ago.

One of my goals in life is to become a federal law enforcement officer, so when one of my online friends posted that he had an interview with the FBI, I began to question my ability and position in life to land the same opportunity. This person is a stranger to me, as being friends on Facebook is the most impersonal and superficial kind of friendship, so why should I care what he had going on in his life? How logical is it to compare my life with his?

All it did was make me feel bad about myself by bringing out my own insecurities. But with social media, it’s difficult not to make these comparisons.

Social media use has also been known to lead to feelings of loneliness and being left out in much the same way.

Comparing yourself to other people will make you feel insecure about the number of friends you have since others on social media may have more friends than you. Or when other people post pictures with their girlfriends/boyfriends or going on adventures with friends, you may feel left out by thinking you don’t have the same kind of relationship with the people in your life.

Cyberbullying has also become a hallmark of social media use that is meant to intimidate social media users through embarrassing or harassing behavior. This can be done many ways, such as by starting and spreading rumors, sharing embarrassing or intimate photos, and creating a fake profile with embarrassing information. It is easier to say mean things to someone from behind a computer screen than it is face-to-face, which is why it has become so prevalent.

As a parent, while you may want to block or at least severely limit access to your child’s social media pages, this is unrealistic and infeasible. You don’t avoid, you monitor and develop a plan so that social media use doesn’t control your life or the life of your child.

Here are five ways to lessen the negative effects of social media use:

  1. Ensure a healthy balance – Put the phone down and go to a friend’s house for some face-to-face time. There is nothing wrong with indulging in social media now and then, but when it takes over every waking hour, that’s when you need to reflect and make some changes in your life.
  2. Turn off the notifications – Since social media use is largely informal and, ultimately, unimportant, there is no reason to allow social media to interrupt your day by bringing you constant notifications.
  3. Limit the number of profiles you have – Do you really need six social media accounts? Two or three should be enough. Ditch the rest and you will see a significant improvement in the number of hours you spend on social media.
  4. Set a time to be on and off social media – Setting a timeframe to use social media can loosen the grip it has over you. It will also make you more productive, less stressed, and help ensure a healthy balance.
  5. Be honest with yourself – If scrolling through Facebook for the hundredth time today makes you anxious, irritated, or depressed, put down the phone and do something else with your time. Be honest with yourself and disengage from social media use when you start feeling discouraged or aggravated.

Adhering to these simple rules will undoubtedly provide you with a more fulfilling and better perspective on life. Remember the reason you initially signed up for social media? – To have fun and engage with friends. When this becomes no longer true, it is time to rethink your use of social media.



Author Bio: Tim is a freelance journalist who has extensive education in the areas of Criminology, Psychology, and Sociology. He is a mental health advocate and researcher who hopes to make a difference in people’s lives. Tim can be reached at tim@writingthatmoves.com, or you can visit writingthatmoves.com.



Pew Research Center. 2018. http://www.pewinternet.org/2018/03/01/social-media-use-in-2018/

Twenge, J. M., Joiner, T. E., Rogers, M. L., & Martin, G. N. (2018). Increases in depressive symptoms, suicide-related outcomes, and suicide rates among US adolescents after 2010 and links to increased new media screen time. Clinical Psychological Science, 6(1), 3-17.



Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash

The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.

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1 thoughts on “Living in the 21st Century: Social Media’s Impact on Mental Health and Well-being

  1. Shane McEvoy says:

    Great points there, Facebook is especially prevalent for the issues you mentioned and over analysing the lives of others in comparison to your own is definitely a bad idea. As someone wise once said, the only competition you have in life is with yourself, so you should focus on your own goals instead – Also plenty of people post fake images and lie about their life on social media platforms like Facebook so what you’re seeing may not be true, or the whole truth.

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