The Impact of Social Media on Mental Health

By: Marcela Homsany  |  May 12, 2022

By Marcela Homsany, News Editor 

In today’s day and age, it seems like everyone, from your professor to your neighbor’s dog has social media. In between posting photos, liking celebrities’ latest posts, and updating our social media status, people seem to spend less and less time outside their screen. That being said, we, as a society, have allowed social media to deeply impact our mental health. 

At its core, social media is an amazing tool. It has revolutionized our form of communication and interactions: people are able to spread ideas, information, and images quicker than ever before. It does, however, come with a cost. With the efficiency of a mobile device, theoretically, there is no longer any real reason to socialize physically. The truth is that social media is increasingly paving the path for  a sedentary generation whose interaction with society resides with the display of images on a small screen that can be edited, misconstrued, and manipulated. People on social media work hard to present what they consider to be their “best selves” always, which, in addition, works to build an underlying sense of pressure for perfection. A study by Cureus described how “ it has been indicated that the prolonged use of social media platforms such as Facebook may be related to negative signs and symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress..” A shocking 2015 study suggests that the negative effects of social media begin to take a toll on those who use social media for more than 2 hours daily. 

In the meantime, apps like Instagram and Tiktok, which target younger audiences through short videos, use an unregulated algorithm that supports unhealthy behaviors such as over-exercising and extreme dieting. Trends under the hashtag #QuarantineDiet and #WeightLoss are followed by millions, encouraging a disordered relationship with food and exercise to an extremely vulnerable, prospective audience. In addition, these apps provide their users with photographic filters and lenses that can alter their state of being, so when they take a picture or video, they can appear different than reality, making way for the unrealistically “flawless” beauty standards of today: smooth, light skin, lighter eyes, slimmer, with some filters even including the addition of makeup.

But not all is lost. The U.S. Senate has intervened, holding a hearing about social media, its impact on individuals, and how to prevent any negative side effects altogether in February of 2022. At the hearing, whistleblower Haugen presented thousands of documents showing the negligence Facebook sustained against kids under the age of 13, allowing them to remain on the site despite knowing the negative effects its use often has on minors. As a result, Congress has moved to enact an online safety bill entitled The Kid Online Safety Act of 2022. The act maintains multiple regulative notions, including online screen-time limitations, the review and prevention of potential harmful posts, and a third-party analysis of social media apps that will quantify compliance to the new law, as well as mental and physical risks to users and companys’ actions to minimize said risks.

Other social media apps have taken action against the harmful effects of filter usage by automatically watermarking an image with the filter’s name. Instagram, in particular, has changed its policies to prevent harmful content involving weight loss from reaching minors.

Social media certainly has its drawbacks, but it does, however, succeed in its ability to give voice and community to marginalized groups. It serves as a platform for the speechless to speak, like that seen in the #MeToo movement, which, with the aid of social media, gave victims of sexual assault a way to voice their experiences, find support, and even seek justice. 

As with anything in life, balance is key to having a healthy relationship with social media. So in order to fully reap the benefits of social media, we should limit time usage of apps, turn off notifications to lower temptation, resist the urge to use social media before and in bed, and most importantly, put our phones away when with friends and family.