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The Impact of Social Media on Mental health

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The Impact of Social Media on Mental Health: A Comprehensive Analysis

Social media is commonly defined as a collective term for websites and applications that focus on communication, interaction, content-sharing, and collaboration (Rouse, 2020). In recent years there has been a rapid rise in the way communication, connection and sharing information happens on social media. Various platforms have been created and are being used for various purposes, the primary ones being Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This digital transformation has also led to concerns about its potential impact on mental health. There is a relationship between social media and the well-being of an individual. There are both positive and negative effects of social media on well-being. 

The Positive Effects
1. Social Support- Social media has found to be useful in connecting with friends, family and people across vast distances. In the case of mental health, people undergoing some mental health issues such as anxiety, and depression,  often find it useful to connect with the right professionals who can help them or connect with people with similar experiences virtually. Research suggests that maintaining online social connections can have a positive impact on overall mental health (Kross et al., 2013).
2. Awareness and Education: Social media platforms often provide valuable information about mental health. These platforms are used at various levels to provide awareness and fight against stigma linked with mental health issues. 
3. Expression and Creativity: Sharing personal experiences, creativity and work is often empowering and helps to boost self-esteem. It hence has a positive impact on mental well-being. Studies have indicated that engaging in creative activities can reduce stress and improve mood (Stuckey & Nobel, 2010).

The Negative Effects
1.Addiction and Time Consumption: Social media is designed to grab the attention of users and as a result, it can lead to excessive time spent on screen. The effect of increased screen time are varied; ranging from disturbance in sleep, ignoring real-life relationships leading to isolation, affecting physical health and lifestyle and reduced self-esteem.
2.Comparison and Envy: One of the most significant negative impacts of social media is the tendency for users to engage in social comparison. There are feelings of inadequacy that can also cause low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. A study by Chou and Edge (2012) found that increased social comparison on Facebook led to decreased self-esteem.
3. Cyberbullying: Cyberbullying is also known as online bullying. It occurs on digital platforms such as social media. The impact of cyberbullying can lead to severe consequences such as stress, depression,  anxiety, low self-esteem, isolation and loneliness. 
4. Fear of Missing Out (FOMO): It is mainly the compulsion to check feeds as a consequence of anxiety associated with the fear of missing out on things on social media. It can lead to disturbed sleep, lower life satisfaction, decreased mood and restlessness. This affects overall mental well-being.  

The Moderating Factors
Several factors influence the relationship between social media and mental health:

1. Age and Vulnerability: Adolescents and young adults are considered to be more vulnerable to the negative effects of social media as they are still developing their self-identity. They are more prone to experience cyberbullying, social comparison and isolation as compared to other populations.
2. Individual Resilience: Every individual differs in the way they cope with any stressor. An individual’s resilience and personal attitude might play a significant role in being able to cope with the stressors of social media. Strong social support, self-esteem and effective coping skills are a few factors to enhance resilience. 

To mitigate the negative impact of social media, individuals can:
  • Set limit to usage to avoid excessive screen time.
  • Following informative, positive and supportive content can be helpful.
  • Self-awareness to recognize how the negative effects of social media affect mental well-being.
  • Encouraging digital literacy and learning about cyberbullying, online etiquette and safety.
  • Seeking help and support when facing cyberbullying or other mental health challenges. Mental health professionals can provide valuable assistance.
  • Building resilience and building real-life support systems and connections.
The impact of social media on mental health is complex and an evolving issue. There are several positives and negatives associated with the impact of social media on the mental well-being of an individual. It is essential to acknowledge the potential negative impacts, learn to mitigate them and also to seek help from a mental health professional when needed. 

Dr. Puneet Dwevedi
Chief - Mental Health and Behavioural Science

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