It is common knowledge that Change is the only constant thing in life. It is also safe to say that evolution is another constant concept. Over the years, as man evolved, he searched for means to make life more comfortable. More importantly, he aimed to devise ways to make routine tasks less arduous and less time-consuming. Man evolved from sending professional runners to deliver a message to writing letters and having vessels deliver them.
Now we can communicate with someone across the continent by simply dialing a number on our phones.
Likewise, instead of making a diagnosis based on clinical findings alone, we have highly advanced laboratory devices that can offer accurate findings to ascertain the cause of an illness.
That is the beauty of evolution, innovation, and, precisely, technology. The more exciting part is that technology has come to stay. It doesn’t come as a surprise, though, because of the numerous benefits of technology. Nevertheless, it is essential to identify the impact of technology and, by association, social media in our lives and particularly our mental health.
But before we delve into that, a proper understanding of the terms; technology, social media, and mental health is necessary.
What Is Technology?
Technology is the application of scientific knowledge to our practical day-to-day activities. It encompasses tangible products like machines or appliances and intangible ones like software. Technology has proven to be useful in industries, hospitals, schools, and other aspects of life (1).
Today, we have become hugely dependent on technology. The car you drive to work, the refrigerator that keeps your groceries fresh, and the phones you use to either make calls, surf the internet, or for recreational activities.
In fact, it is impossible to do anything with technology.
What Is Social Media?
Social media refers to a platform where ideas and information are shared through virtual networks. It is a general term for websites and applications through which communities of families, friends, co-workers, and strangers communicate, create, and share information as well as other content like videos. It is estimated that more than 4.7 billion people (approximately 60% of the world’s population use social media (2).
Types Of Social Media Include:
What Is Mental Health?
Mental health refers to a state of well-being where we are aware of our own abilities as we learn and carry out our tasks efficiently while coping with the regular stresses we might encounter in life (4). Although mental health is not limited to merely the absence of mental disorders, it can be simply defined as freedom from mental illness or impaired functioning. Mental health influences the choices we make, the way we relate to people, and how we cope with stress.
It is also important to note that one can have poor mental health without having a mental illness. For one to be proclaimed to be in optimal mental health, these indicators would be accessed.
Psychological Well-being, which involves spirituality, personal growth, and self-acceptance
Emotional Well-being, which includes cheerfulness, peacefulness, and contentment
Social well-being involves social acceptance, personal self-worth, and a conducive living and working environment.
What Is the Impact of Technology and Social Media On Mental Health?
With increasing dependence on technology and social media, there is a corresponding increased concern over its impact on our mental health. Of major worry is social media’s impact on youths, as studies show that they are frequent users of technology and social media. Researchers are beginning to wonder if the cons might be greater than the pros.
75% of adolescents are proud cell phone owners, making it easier for them to spend most of their time doing one activity or the other on the phone. In a recent survey, 22% of adolescents visit their favorite social media website not less than 10 times daily, while more than 50% log in more than once daily (5).
Growing evidence has established that excessive use of technology and social media has a negative impact on mental health. In a research carried out among students in Ontario, it was noted that students who spent more than 2 hours daily on social media had more chances of their mental health being rated as poor.
Some of the negative impacts include:
1. Increased Isolation (Loneliness) and Decreased Social Interaction
It has been discovered that a heavy user of social media is three times more likely to feel socially isolated. The frequent use of technology at work was identified to greatly reduce social interaction at work. This creates room for loneliness, which has been found to increase stress levels and augment depression (6).
In a survey carried out by Nottingham Trent University, it was concluded that social media addiction is a real thing, with a prevalence of 1.5 to 8.2% in 2012. Not just that, a follow-up study showed that people who are largely dependent on digital devices experienced psychological symptoms of withdrawal when they stopped using them. Over 70% of the participants admitted to experiencing significant levels of anxiety and the urge to log in again when they temporarily stop logging on to their favorite websites (7).
3. Anxiety and Depression
Evidence from different studies points out a connection between social media use and depressive symptoms among users. Apart from the susceptibility to depression through the effect of blue light emitted by our phones, frequent use of social media can affect one’s mood, promoting feelings of sadness, anxiety, or low self-worth.
Another possible factor is the little to no healthy activities one engages in when using technology or spending time on social media. Activities like physical activities, learning a new skill, and signing up for volunteer jobs promote social interaction and yield a sense of accomplishment.
4. Poor Sleep Patterns
The use of smartphones, especially before bed, has been linked to sleep disturbances. 90% of Americans are reputed to use their phones as often as 5 times a week, either going through texts on social media or playing online games, just before going to bed. The blue light emitted by these smart devices disrupts the circadian rhythm, making it difficult to fall asleep.
The effect of this repetitive delayed sleep is that one feels fatigued and unfocused during the day. It can also contribute to depression, poor academic performance, and memory loss, as well as other mental problems.
5. Promotes Unnecessary Comparison and Lack of Contentment
It’s no secret that some social media sites like Instagram and TikTok are filled with carefully selected pictures and videos of users showing off their lifestyles. They often portray a surreal or idealized picture-perfect version of themselves. This has been known to trigger feelings of envy, inadequacy, and insecurity among other users. In a study carried out among college students, a connection was made between envy and depression in Facebook use.
People tend to grow envious when they see pictures of their mates living in grand style, going on vacations, and posing in their new designer outfits. They begin to wish for such a lifestyle for themselves and grow depressed.
Surprisingly, it makes little or no difference to know that the pictures posted online are a mere projection of glamorized reality.
6. Fear of Missing Out
Man is a social being, hence fears missing out on invitations, jokes, or jokes. It is not uncommon for one to feel upset when they discover that they have not been invited to an event. When they get to see the event online and realize that they were left out, it can affect their thoughts and feelings. This can further give rise to feelings of low self-esteem and resentment, affecting their mental health. The fear of missing out also compels one to check their phones for updates, encouraging addiction to social media and dependence on smartphones.
7. Cyberbullying and Negative Online Experience
The early possession of digital devices and easy access to the internet has made people, especially teens, become vulnerable to cyberbullying. An estimated 10% of teens are reported to be bullied on social media. This might trigger mental issues in such persons. (8) Cyberbullying includes sending or sharing messages intended to intimidate or embarrass an individual. It is stipulated that for every 10% increase in negative online experience, there is a corresponding 20% risk of depression.
Positive Impact of Technology and Social Media on Mental Health
Notwithstanding the considerable negative impact of technology and social media on mental health, it has proven to be beneficial too. Some benefits include:
One can’t deny the relevance of technology and social media since its inception. Its impact on mental health can also not be over-emphasized. As much as it has promoted the connection between friends and families, provided means for people to learn new skills and sought support online, it has equally threatened privacy, encouraged low self-esteem, and greatly affected our mental health.
Therefore, we have to adopt strategies that will ensure balanced mental and overall health by setting boundaries where social media is concerned. Therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy are often employed by mental health professionals to help individuals affected negatively by social media. The therapy is aimed at challenging one’s thought patterns, making them conscious of their feelings and thoughts, and working towards developing a healthier coping system.
(1) Wikipedia Contributors. (2019, January 28). Technology. Wikipedia; Wikimedia Foundation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology
(2) Kemp, S. (2023, January 26). Digital 2023: Global Overview Report. DataReportal. https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2023-global-overview-report
(3) Kudumula, D. (2022, April 19). What Are The Types of Social Media? Blog.digimind.com. https://blog.digimind.com/en/insight-driven-marketing/what-are-the-types-of-social-media
(4) Science Direct. (n.d.). Mental Health – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. Www.sciencedirect.com. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/mental-health
(5) O’Keeffe, G. S., & Clarke-Pearson, K. (2011). The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families. Pediatrics, 127(4), 800–804. American Academy of Pediatrics. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2011-0054
(6) Novotney, A. (2019, May). The risks of social isolation. Https://Www.apa.org. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/05/ce-corner-isolation#
(7) Walton, A. G. (2017, June 30). 6 Ways Social Media Affects Our Mental Health. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2017/06/30/a-run-down-of-social-medias-effects-on-our-mental-health/?sh=3fdbdbb42e5a
(8) Sherrell, Z. (2021, September 15). Social media and mental health: Depression and psychological effects. Www.medicalnewstoday.com. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/social-media-and-mental-health#statistics
(9) Clay, R. A. (2023). Mental health apps are gaining traction. Apa.org. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2021/01/trends-mental-health-apps