In just the last 15 years the use of social media has gone from a niche market to ubiquitous in modern society. Mark Zuckerberg launched thefacebook.com on February 4th, 2004 and by 2009 it was ranked as the most used social media-networking site online (Phillips, 2007). Initially aimed at collegiate types, in 2009 Facebook extended its services to anybody over the age of 13 around the globe (Amiritharajan,Karthik, Radhika, Rayappan,2014,p230). The social networking goliath is the second most frequented website on the planet and receives online traffic from approximately 900 users globally (Amiritharajan,Karthik, Radhika, Rayappan,2014). Social Media has become a fantastic communication tool, which enables a person to share their lives with friends and families but are the negatives starting to outweigh the positives? This essay will argue that the prevalence of social media in today’s society has a negative effect on the mental health of teenagers and young adults. Firstly it will identify the negative impacts of social media on o mental health, secondly it will identify its positives and lastly it will evaluate whether the cause for concern is warranted.
Mental health is an extremely important aspect of a person’s overall well -being.
Social media exposes adolescents to a host of mental health concerns, which include Facebook depression, addiction and cyber-bullying. Social media is a relatively new phenomenon and this is where a regular user of Facebook develops symptoms associated with depression (). Depression is a disorder that has an array of negative consequences and has a wide range of symptoms, which include a loss of interest in activities that a sufferer once found enjoyable, an overall cognitive, physical and emotional dissonance (Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2010,N.P). In relation to Facebook depression is fueled by a teens urge for acceptance that is so easy to find online, with the instant gratification provided by likes or comments on a post it isn’t hard to see how that instant reward can become enticing. http://allafrica.com/stories/201409260500.html
When social media validates a teen’s entire sense of self it can be a serious health concern. The skewing of reality that is a common practice on Facebook is also a major contributor to this new phenomenon. It allows people to project an image of themselves, which depicts the best aspects of their life and complete ignores the more mundane elements to. Whether it is posting pictures of a party that you weren’t invited to but all your friends were, watching people travel to exotic locations or seeing the perfect romance, it poorly effects teenagers by reinforcing the fallacy of depression that I am alone in my travails, that nobody else feels as bad as I do (Pediatrics Week, 2012,p129). A report undertaken by the University of Michigan asked a group of young adults who were Facebook users and owners of smart phones how they were feeling during different periods of the day. The results showed that if the user had recently used Facebook they were more prone to expressing feelings associated with depression (China Post, 2013). The link between depression and addiction is irrefutable and a desire to find happiness in substances that become addictive is a common pitfall for the depressed.
The thought of social media as a dangerous addiction attracts a lot of skepticism and the argument is that it trivializes the more dangerous addictions found in drugs and gambling. But the research is being done and evidence is appearing that suggests that Internet addiction has a similar effect on the brain as cocaine (Lin, Zhou, Du, Qin, Zhao, Xu, Lei, 2012,N.P). It adversely affects the brain’s white matter; this disrupts the neurological pathways responsible for emotions, decision-making and self-control. Although there is limited clinical evidence on social media in relation to it’s addictiveness, it is safe to assume that considering the overwhelming popularity of applications like Facebook online these addictions our inexorably interrelated. At the heart of all addictions is a compulsion that develops from the reward systems in the brain (Ross,Kincaid, 2010, NP) research from Harvard University has concluded that sharing personal information is intrinsically rewarding (Tamir, Mitchell, 2012).
The rise of anytime, anywhere communication has only heightened the likelihood of addiction for young people and in today’s digital age it can seem impossible to resist. Debra a self-confessed Facebook addict admits, “… even when I’m in class I have it open. It is totally addicting ”(Craig, 2009,p133). One of the main concerns relating to Internet addiction is the difficulty posed in effectively diagnosing and treating this affliction in young people. This is because the symptoms of addiction are considerably more difficult to recognize then with other addictions due to the personal nature of Facebook use, it is a challenge for concerned parents to monitor. The habitual use of Facebook is what eventually leads to full blown addiction, it becomes a part of your daily routine, it becomes the first thing you check when you’re on the computer and then it can get to a point where it becomes negative. You should be focusing on your assignments or schoolwork but you just unconsciously scroll up and down the news feed, like a mindless drone. The computerization of humanity has led to real world issues manifesting and exacerbating online, arguably most relevant to young people’s mental health today is bullying.
Cyber-bullying is a new issue teenagers are being faced with. It takes all the worst aspects of bullying and combines it with the immediacy of new communication technology. For somebody affected by this it can feel never-ending. The types of cyber -bullying used most frequently on social media websites like Facebook and its affiliate Instagram include posting malicious photos of a person without their consent, the “slap game” where a person is unknowingly recorded before randomly getting slapped and then the reaction is posted online. Undoubtedly the most common aspect being employed by bullies is posting hurtful comments on people’s photos or tagging them in an insulting way (http://bullying.about.com/od/Cyberbullying/fl/8-Ways-Kids-Are-Using-Instagram-to Bully.htm).
The effects cyber-bullying can have on a young person’s mental health and development has been well documented. One of the most alarming concerns is that most of the people doing these things online intend them as a joke. A report conducted by Jenifer Shapka , placed it at 95% of students who considered the majority of what was taking place on the internet as a joke(Corbett.,2013)The disconnect between how we are treating people online and the ability to gauge their reactions in real time is something that is leading to the culture of cyber-bullying. When it is not out of malice but is instead just a misunderstanding it is a great shame. Cyber-bullying and online victimization is a great concern for teenage girls in particular and causes a risk for suicidal thoughts and aggravates underlying mental health concerns (Bannik, Broeren,van de Looij –Jansen, Waart, Raat,2014). Being the victim of bullying can lead to depression, anxiety and body dysmorphia, these complaints can even manifest in physical ailments. That being said social media does not always have to be negative and there are ways in which it is benefiting young people’s mental health.
Social media allows adolescent’s and young adults to achieve many of the aims they have offline in cyberspace. It offers the ability to stay connected with friends and family while creating the chance to make new friends and develop their independence. The people most favorably affected by social media are teenagers with disabilities; it provides an opportunity for these people to develop their social skills (Holmquist, 2008). Affording young people who don’t have the capacity to socialize in a face-to-face setting the chance to have some sort of socialization can only be beneficial. The hope is that with the teenagers who are standoffish it breaks the ice and once they have been approached online it makes it easier for them to mingle in reality. “When teens communicate on Facebook or MySpace, the people they’re talking to don’t see the disability,” (Holmquist, 2008). These teenagers feel like only on Facebook they can get past the stigma attached to their disabilities and finally express their personalities.
When used effectively it can be very enriching and there are the health concerns associated with social media, just problems that humanity already had and will always have, these new websites just give them a different outlet. By having people addicted to Facebook, is that likely to keep them away from other more harmful addictions? Social media, like most technologies is only a tool. It can be harmful but with the proper use it can be an exceptional and extraordinary communication device. The use of Facebook does provide an enormous amount of mental health concerns for adolescents and young adults, for this reason it should be used with a degree of reservation. The effect it has on this group definitely warrants more research.
• Rengarajan Amirtharajan, M. Sai Krishna Karthik, L. Radhika and J.B.B. Rayappan, 2014. Is Facebook-A Global Library?. Information Technology Journal, 13: 2027-2031.
• “Depression; Is Facebook Making Your Child Depressed?”, 2012, Pediatrics Week, , pp. 129.
• Royal College of Psychiatrists, National Library of Medicine & National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health (Great Britain) 2010, Depression: the treatment and management of depression in adults, Royal College of Psychiatrists, London.
• Lin F, Zhou Y, Du Y, Qin L, Zhao Z, et al. (2012) Abnormal White Matter Integrity in Adolescents with Internet Addiction Disorder: A Tract-Based Spatial Statistics Study.
• Ross, D. 2010, What is addiction? Mit Press, Cambridge, MA.
• Watkins, S.C.(.C. 2009, The young and the digital: what the migration to social-network sites, games, and anytime, anywhere media means for our future, Beacon Press, Boston
• Corbett, N. 2013, Most cyber-bullying intended as joke, Maple Ridge, B.C.
• Holmquist, J, 2008, Social Networking Sites: Consider the Benefits, Concerns for Parents, University of Minnesota.