We all know that social media has a negative impact on mental health, but why? Also, how does social media impact mental health? The answer is a lot more nuanced and complex than you might imagine at first because social media can benefit and harm our mental health in equal measure. In this clinical psychology podcast episode, we’ll explore this topic in more depth and you’ll start to understand how social media impacts mental health.
Today’s episode has been sponsored by Social Media Psychology: A Guide To Clinical Psychology, Cyberpsychology and Depression. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also, you can buy the eBook directly from me at https://www.payhip.com/connorwhiteley
Extract From Social Media Psychology by Connor Whiteley Copyright 2023 CGD Publishing
I’m going to lay the groundwork for the rest of the book in terms of mental health. Since in the last chapter, we definitely spoke about mental health and how it relates to social media, but now we dive into it even deeper. Which is critical just so the rest of the book makes sense and why we’re looking at the different topics that we are.
Therefore, given that social media has been reported to produce both negative and positive effects within different people (Gitlow et al., 2019). We do need to question who is at greater risk on social media platforms. Is it those with mental health conditions or those without?
One example of this sort of thinking can be seen in Primack and Escobar-Viera (2017) who noted the possibility for social media to negatively impact people with depression and a person’s subjective well-being (Kross et al. 2013).
Then just to emphasise how complex this all is, despite the findings of Primack and Escobar-Viera (2017), there have been several case study reports that show possible evidence for social media being a useful, and not harmful, tool for people with mental health conditions. Especially amongst people who are considered to be reclusive as social media can help them improve their social integration (Veretilo & Billick, 2012) and connections with other people with stigmatizing mental conditions (Primack & Escobar-Viera, 2017).
In addition, social media has been cited as playing a large role in the long war (my terms but hardly an exaggeration) against the stigma around mental health conditions. Other people have compared it to another on-going battle but the long war is definitely what it feels like. The reason for this is because there are positives and negatives of social media for mental health stigma. Since it does allow people to share with their own thoughts and experiences with other people who could benefit from these social exchanges (Betton et al., 2015).
However, as a personal note, you also get trolls and other idiots who bang on about how people with mental disorders need to be locked, shot or cleansed for religious reasons or to stop them from further polluting the human gene pool.
Whenever I see comments like that I seriously laugh, because it just goes to show how stupid these commentors are and just how little of an understanding they actually have of how these so-called disorders or illnesses work.
Then I tend to feel sad because of the sheer amount of damage these commentors are doing with their toxic views.
Anyway, social media use as well as depression, in particular, seem to be closely linked with the greater amount of social media use being associated with a greater risk of developing Major Depression Disorder (Aydin et al., 2020; Cunningham et al., 2021; Ghaemi, 2020; L. yi Lin et al., 2016; McDougall et al., 2016; Mok et al., 2014), self-injurious behaviour and suicidal ideation (George, 2019; Memon et al., 2018), as well as suicide rates (Twenge et al., 2018).
In addition, research suggests that people with depression might experience social media differently compared to people without depression. For example, social media might have a negative effect on those with depression and people with depression might experience decreased social activity on social media (de Choudhury, Gamon, et al., 2013), and they might have fewer social media interactions compared to control groups in research (Sungkyu Park et al., 2013).
Nevertheless, Park et al. (2013) found that people with depression thought of social media to be a tool for them and others to become more socially aware and have more emotional interaction, compared to people without depression who described social media as an information consuming and sharing tool.
In my opinion, I can definitely see where these studies are coming from because I don’t have depression and as I mentioned early, I tend to use my personal social media to learn what my friends and family are up to, and I’m a part of a few Facebook groups that is all about learning and asking questions around a certain topic. As well as on my Twitter list of profiles I want to check daily or at least regularly, I want to learn what these people are doing and what they have to share with me.
And in case you’re wondering, the people on my Twitter List aren’t celebrities or anyone. They tend to be author friends that share interesting articles from time to time that I can learn from, in fact I think the only celebrity on my Twitter list is the amazing Joe Locke but that’s it.
But my point is I do tend to use my social media accounts for information gathering and social interactions.
Anyway, the reason why we’re looking at these studies is that they are actually very important and their significance can’t really be overstated. As they all highlight a possible negative mechanism within people with depression that results in even though these people use social media less for interaction compared to non-depressed people, these people still see their interactions on social media to be more important and a central function of SM.
As well as the reason why this is bad is because even though they might feel like they’re getting benefits of these online interactions, their social media use might increase their feelings of loneliness, leading to negative effects (Casale & Fioravanti, 2011).
As a result, this could suggest that these negative outcomes from social media might work, at least in part, by the mechanism of social media’s perceived purpose, and before I actually go onto the next bit. Let’s take a moment to consider what that actually means, because this really is all about perception.
As I’m fairly sure that when I was talking about what I’ve used social media for, you probably haven’t agreed, and that doesn’t make you or me wrong. It just means that we both think social media has a different purpose. For example, in terms of concrete purposes, the purpose of social media for me is to learn more and interact in groups and reach amazing as well as interactive readers.
Again, this is only my perception, and yours will probably be very different, but it’s the idea of personal perception that is important here.
Therefore, this perceived purpose is important because depressed people don’t have the same levels of interaction and support as they perhaps expect, and their real-world social support network might be rather small.
In addition, social media platforms, like Facebook, can be used by people to develop as well as maintain social connectedness. Which has been shown by research to be associated with decreased depression and anxiety, and improvements to quality of life (Grieve et al., 2013).
As a result, people with depression might therefore struggle to develop social-media-derived connectedness because they’re having fewer interactions when they are online. So this could lead to them increasing or maintaining their levels of depression. Leading to exacerbating the negative outcomes associated with the condition.
Moreover, broader research into social media suggests that online social interaction, or in this case a lack of social interaction is at the epicentre of the negative social media-related outcomes. Like the mental health difficulties, the psychological distress it causes and how it links within various mental health conditions. As well as potentially the perception of what social media is used for and by extension, the perception of how other people use it.
Because as we near the end of the chapter, we all need to get one thing very straight right now. We all need to understand that the relationship between depression and social media isn’t as simple as social media only being negative towards depressed people, because it could have potential benefits that we’ll explore later on in more depth.
But to give you a little taster perhaps, it’s worth noting that research has found that social media has been found to act as an affective adjunct therapy for treatment-resistant anxiety and depression (Mota Pereira, 2014; Rice et al., 2020) and social media has been associated with a decline in depressive symptoms, when used to strengthen pre-existing relationships (Bessiere et al., 2010).
Therefore, even from those two quick examples, we can all start to see that this social media and depression relationship is very complex and it isn’t as clear cut as perhaps any of us thought before we started this book.
Consequently, social media may have different outcomes based on the way that people use it. Such as, if people use social media to strengthen pre-existing social relationships, it’s thought to be more beneficial to their well-being compared to them using social media for extending relationships beyond these circles, or in other words making more online friends. This could be because of the different levels of social support that the person gains from each of these types of social media use (Pantic, 2014).
Equally, another type of social media use is called ‘compensatory’ SMU (Kardefelt-Winther, 2014), were the person sadly uses social media as the place where they make their social connections, instead of forming real-life connections, with it probably being no surprise whatsoever that this has unfortunately been associated with higher levels of depression (Zhou et al., 2020).
Whereas phubbing, this is where you use your phone in social contexts, has been associated with feelings of exclusion and subsequent increased SMU. Then this because the person feels excluded and using social media more is linked to higher levels of anxiety and depression (David & Roberts, 2020).
So this relationship, I suppose, could be called as sort of being like a vicious cycle because someone might start feeling excluded and lonely so they use social media more. Then this causes their loneliness to get worse. That’s exactly how complex this relationship is at times.
And now that’s I’ve given you a thorough introduction that links social media to mental health and depression, I’ll give you a quick outline for the rest of the book as now we really need to deep dive into this complex relationship. Because I’m guessing that you’re now very interested in what these positives actually are?
How could social media possibly benefit people with depression?
I really hope you enjoyed today’s clinical psychology podcast episode.
If you want to learn more, please check out:
Social Media Psychology: A Guide To Clinical Psychology, Cyberpsychology and Depression. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also, you can buy the eBook directly from me at https://www.payhip.com/connorwhiteley
Have a great day.
Clinical Psychology and Cyberpsychology Reference
Whiteley, C. (2023) Social Media Psychology: A Guide To Clinical Psychology, Cyberpsychology and Depression. CGD Publishing. England.
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