The latest research says that high social media use does not, in fact, lead to mental health issues for teens.
Some relevant quotes, which I find totally believable based on what I’ve seen on social media over the years for all users, not just teens:
“While some adults have voiced concerns over the potential mental health risks of this behavior, our research finds no compelling evidence to suggest that social media use meaningfully increases adolescents’ risk of depressive symptoms.”
Researchers found daily social media use was not associated with depressive symptoms after accounting for the fact that the adolescents who frequently use social media have worse mental health to begin with.
“Daily social media use does not capture the diverse ways in which adolescents use social media, which may be both positive and negative depending on the social context,” says senior author Katherine Keyes, Ph.D., associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School.
I think that second quote is really the key. We’ve seen studies that are reported as showing that kids who use social media get more depression and anxiety, but those studies do not address the question of whether there’s any proof that the causality is in that direction and not the other. In other words, do teens who use social media a lot develop depression, or do depressed teens use social media more. This study seems to indicate it’s the latter. As we continue with a lot of social distancing, and activities being canceled and in person gatherings are very limited, we know everyone will be relying more on social media to stay connected, so this is an important question, and I think what this study, and others, really shows us is that there are ways to use social media as a positive influence on our mental health, and a way to use it that will not be a positive influence on our mental health.
In the physical world, we have these same choices. Do we interact with people who are toxic? Do we spend all of our time comparing ourselves to others? Do we isolate? Or do we find out tribe, our group of supportive friends/family that can interact socially in ways that help our mental health?
We all make those same choices on social media, but the key difference here is that if we simply don’t choose, and make no effort to make conscious decisions about who we follow and interact with, social network algorithms will make the decision for us. Anyone already struggling with mental health is maybe more likely to not spent much time thinking about these things, and just let the app show them what it wants to show them, and that is not necessarily going to be good for our anxiety. Especially right now.
So, if you find yourself feeling more anxious, angry, irritated, etc. every time you hop on Twitter or Instagram, maybe instead of just being that way, spend some time thinking about who you follow, and what they are bringing in to your life?
For any of my social media using readers, can you share some of your favorite positive accounts that you interact with to HELP your mental health?