With over 2.34 billion users worldwide, social media has readily become a massive platform for a variety of uses such as advertising, entertainment, and communication (Statista, 2018). The number of users is expected to continue to grow to 2.95 billion within the next two years (Statista, 2018). It is reported that North America is the densest with social media usage climbing over a 66 percent and over 80 percent of teenagers use a cell phone on a regular basis (Statista, 2014).
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Daily time consumption through social media is also on the rise going from an average of 96 minutes back in 2012 to 118 minutes in 2016 (Statista, 2014). With the ever growing number of individuals on social media and the daily time spent on it, we question the mental health effects it has on its users.
One issue heavily linked to the internet and social media is online bullying; over half of teenagers have been bullied online and half of these individuals have had this occur to them on more than one occasion (Bullyingstatistics, 2015). Around 20 percent of these young people experience cyberbullying regularly, which is no surprise considering 81% of these teens believe that bullying online is easier to get away with than it is doing in person (Bullyingstatistics, 2015). To make matters more complicated only one out of ten victims will ever inform an adult about their abuse (Bullyingstatistics, 2015). The effects of online bullying is rather unfortunate; victims of bullying are two to eight times more likely to consider committing suicide.
Apart from direct online bullying, social media was linked to experiencing negative mental health outcomes even with seemingly non harmful usage. Studies showed a less moment to moment happiness and less satisfaction in life (Kross, 2013). It also showed that any comparison made regardless of whether its looking up to or looking down on someone resulted in the individual feeling worse than before they started. There was also a connection made between envy and depression in facebook use and depressive symptoms (Steers, 2014). Social media appears to be a breeding ground for negative feelings regardless of how we feel prior to being on it. Analysis showed that people who reported usage of more than seven platforms had a three times more risk of having depression and anxiety compared to those two had a maximum of two platforms (Zagorski, 2017). In addition, we saw an increase in major depressive episodes from 8.7% in 2005 to 11.3% in 2014 amongst the younger population (Lin, 2016). It’s not to say that the internet is the sole reason for this increase in depression, however research proves that it may be a major contributing factor especially since social media has integrated itself as a major part of people’s daily lives. This makes us question what we can do to stop the detrimental effects social media has on individuals.
Anxiety is another mental health issue related to social media. Social media anxiety is actually this feeling of stress and distress that is caused by the usage of social media (Walker, 2018). Some causes of this anxiety include juggling multiple social media platforms at once, having a fear of missing out, comparing oneself to others, needing attention and approval from others, and the overall addiction to using the platforms (Zagorski, 2017). A person’s addiction to social assurance has shown to activate parts of the brain that are activated when using drugs that cause addiction (Davey, 2016). All of these create a great deal of stress and the amount of time of electronic usage grows along with it. Social media anxiety is also closely related to the more broader term, social anxiety disorder, which is a feeling of stress/distress caused by social interactions or situations (Walker, 2018). People who exhibit symptoms of social anxiety disorder, like fear of being judged, avoiding social interactions, and having low self esteem, may turn to social media use as an alternative to in-person social interaction. This usage can them stem into these mental health issues that we’ve talked about.
Although we see many negative effects of social media use, of course there is a positive side to it as well. Social media can help people who experience loneliness, social isolation, provide motivation, social support, helps strengthen relationships both new and old, and helps us all stay connected whether it’s for business, family relations, or others (Naruse, 2017). One of the more important pros to social media use is the ability for us to notice signs of other people’s distress and signs of altered mental health (Naruse, 2017). An example of this would be noticing someone posting depressing statuses or pictures and maybe even noticing their vocalizing of suicidal ideations. Social media has become a platform where someone can so easily express their feelings and thoughts and we can actually use this as a way to notice signs of distress. It’s also a great way to bring awareness to these problems and getting people involved in preventing things like cyberbullying.
An important role we can all partake, especially as nurses, is educating ourselves about signs of mental health distress, cyberbullying, and risk for suicide as a way to aid in this new epidemic in the youth population. We may not be able to stop cyberbullying or prevent this population from using the internet, but providing support to those experiencing the effects of social media and creating a safe environment for them to come to for help and guidance is a great way to prevent youth from advancing to something like suicide. They need to know that it is safe for them to report any signs of altered mental health and safe to report cyber bullies as well. Most importantly, awareness is the key to helping this population.
With social media being a relatively new introduction into our society, the negative effects of its usage has become a new problem and evidently, has become an epidemic. Its effects range widely from altered relationships to altered mental health status and risk for suicide. The number of users are growing every year and being that 80% of those are teenagers, we will begin to see more of the youth population related to mental health disorders (Statista, 2014). Social media has become a new cause for disorders and suicide and unless we become more educated on the matter and how we can aid the youth population, the problem will continue to spread. More research and investigation needs to be conducted on this growing prevalence of social media to truly understand the detrimental effects and discover ways to prevent and treat this. What we can do as nurses is provide youth and their families with information needed to make informed decisions about their health and notice any signs of social media effects in not only themselves but their peers as well.
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