Similar to most other members of my generation, I consider myself to be an active social media user. Multiple times throughout the day I check the feed on my Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat accounts where I see posts from acquaintances and friends made during each phase I’ve gone through in life. There are posts from elementary school friends I met while living in Dallas, as well as ones I met after moving to Massachusetts. There are posts from those who attended the Catholic high school I started at, as well as ones from those who graduated with me from the public high school I eventually transferred to. Not to mention posts from friends I’ve made at Boston College as well as posts from family members. Combining all these groups together with miscellaneous acquaintances results in 1,463 Facebook friends and 924 Instagram followers. These numbers far exceed the amount of people I typically interact with on a daily or even monthly basis, which highlights the main benefit social media provides us: the ability to stay connected with those you have fallen out of touch with. If it were not for social media, would I be aware of what the classmate I sat next to in Kindergarten was doing in her life? Likely no, but being constantly informed about the details of the lives of such a large group of people can lead to issues as well.
Numerous studies have shown that the use of social media is positively correlated with depression in adolescents, whether it be Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. Researchers have concluded that the more time an individual spends on social media, the more likely they are to be depressed. Those conducting the studies attribute this depression to a sense of envy individuals feel as they scroll through their feeds and compare their lives to the ones they see unfolding for the vast number of people they are connected to. Studies and articles on this topic typically instruct social media users to always remember while viewing the profiles of others that it is not someone’s reality they are viewing, rather it is a “highlight reel” of their life. Solid advice…… until you actually try to do it. Even while taking a break from writing this, I found myself staring at an Instagram posted from a friend on a trip to Hawaii wishing I was on vacation instead of doing homework in Hillside. If I can’t even remember to not fall victim to this mental trap while writing about the topic, how realistic is it for adolescents to maintain the correct mindset each time they check their social media pages throughout any given day? And really, how can you not feel envious of someone relaxing on the beach in Hawaii while you’re simultaneously doing homework?
“Participants that use social media very frequently have 2.7 times the likelihood of depression”-University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
Whether depression is a critical issue in our society is confirmed by the facts:
1.) Depression is a condition reported to affect 1 in 10 Americans at some point throughout their life time.
2). The number of diagnoses is reported to be increasing by around 20% each and every single year.
Due to campaigns aiming to destigmatize mental illness and promote mental health, social media has come into the hot seat as a culprit. The real problem with social media increasing the likelihood of depression is how integral it has become to our lives. I would assume that if any individual today was told they should no longer maintain their numerous social media accounts for the sake of their mental health, they would shake off the advice and continue to use them anyway. To give up being connected to all the people you’ve met during each walk of life is a tie most of us cannot fathom breaking.
The question then becomes not whether we abandon social media to benefit our mental health but rather how we use it while also preventing the potential negative affects. As challenging as it is to maintain the mindset researchers suggest while scrolling through social media feeds, it appears to be the only real advice out there. It is critical for us to not engage in the so called “discrepancy monitor” where we continually monitor and evaluate our self and our current situation against the gold standard highlight reel we see from everyone else we are connected to. When we compare each mundane scenario of our every day lives against the best parts of someone else’s, we become our own worst enemy. By doing so, we are operating under the unrealistic assumption that no one else has aspects of their life that are boring or outright unenjoyable. Whether you are depressed or not, keeping this in mind while you are viewing what others are posting on their profile will help you feel better about your current situation (even when you are doing homework in hillside while other people are tanning in Hawaii).
My initial thoughts on social media are that while it is extremely beneficial in keeping us connected to a network of individuals, if it is not used properly it can have a negative impact on our lives.