13 Aug 2019

Social Media and Mental Health, Three Tips To Get The Balance Right 

It’s fair to say that social media has had a huge impact on modern society. From the way we communicate to where we get news to how we spend our time chances are a social network of one kind or another is involved. But what about social media and mental health, how does it impact on this? We recently chatted with Danny O’Brien who does the social media module here at ICHAS and he gave us tips to help you when it comes to getting the balance right.

The Negatives of Social Media and Mental Health

People are using social media more than ever. The average adult in the UK checks their phone 28 times a day. In the US, 69% of American adults use Facebook while in Ireland this figure is 66%.


While these are huge numbers there is an adverse effect to all this time that people spend on social media. A recent report called #StatusOfMind, examined the positive and negative effects of social media on young people’s health. It found some of the health and wellbeing-related issues of social media included: 

  • Awareness and understanding of other people’s health experiences 
  • Access to expert health information you know you can trust 
  • Emotional support (empathy and compassion from family and friends) 
  • Anxiety (feelings of worry, nervousness or unease) 
  • Depression (feeling extremely low and unhappy) 
  • Loneliness (feelings of being all on your own) 
  • Sleep (quality and amount of sleep)
  • Self-expression (the expression of your feelings, thoughts or ideas)

In fact, a new phenomenon called “Facebook Depression,” has been proposed. This is defined as depression that develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, such as Facebook, and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression. With these growing concerns around the impact of social media on mental health, what can you do day to day to avoid this from happening?

Three Tips To Help You Out

We recently sat down with Danny O’Brien, he does the social media module here in the college and he highlighted some useful tips on what people can do to help counter the impact of social media on mental health

Top Tips to Help:

  • What posts/tweets do you interact with? Most social network news feeds (the stuff you see when you enter the site) are controlled by algorithms. Because there is so much going out at any one time these algorithms try and identify the kind of content you want to see. This means that when you like or engage with someone, a page or a group, chances are you’ll see their posts again. If you want to change up what you see in your newsfeed be smart about the posts you interact with. If you want to see something about sport engage with sports posts, similar with posts for friends and family. Try this for a few days and see if what you see on your timeline changes. The reverse is also the case. Don’t want to see certain people’s posts, then don’t engage with them.
  • Don’t forget the mute button & unfollow buttons – The above tip on its own won’t be enough but it is a good start. Sponsored content (Ads)  may be targeted at you even if you haven’t engaged with it. If you don’t want to see certain posts pop up again and again on your feed then hide them. How? There’s a button in the top right-hand corner of every post you can click that gives you the options below.  Also, if you follow a page or a group and you’re getting sick and tired of what you’re seeing from it then unfollow them. This will mean you won’t see their posts again. It’s happened to me several times where groups I initially joined were great and were fun to interact with but then just turned bad and I left/unfollowed them. These are small steps but they can help big time when it comes to cleaning up what you see when scrolling.
  • Set aside time to be off of social media This one has nothing to do with what you do online, but everything to do with offline. Find time to just switch off from your phone and device. Don’t be a slave to the phone vibrating or pinging. This could mean:
    • Going for a walk
    • Finding an activity that means you don’t need your phone with you.
    • Setting yourself a time after which you won’t look at your phone, this is important for good sleep
    • Simply turn on aeroplane mode
    • Humans are built for social interacting, in person. Next time you’re on the bus, on a train or out for food have a quick look around and see how many are on their phone. Chances are it’s 3 in 4 (because it’s something I’ve observed over the last few years). So the next time you’re with a group of friends don’t look at your phone


Social Media, The Pros and Cons It has on Mental Health

Joe Forde lecturer here at ICHAS also highlighted how huge an impact social media has had and the positive as well as the negative impact it has had, especially on young peoples mental health.

I think one of one of the most interesting impacts of social media has been the fundamental shift in how we communicate socially. While it seems kind of obvious, but it was underestimated. It is something that we take for granted but that it’s actually at the absolute heart of the human experience. Increasingly, neuroscience is indicating that the social brain is significant in many ways and that it operates not as a substructure of cognition, which was previously taught.

Plus everybody’s behind the curveball. It’s probably now only that the various disciplines are starting to engage with it on a research basis, are starting to understand this fundamentally. We’re also getting a whole lot of mixed messages from that. So for example, you can get lots of research, which would indicate that it’s contributing adversely to mental health. But, there’s equally a lot of research emerging even over the summer, where the emphasis is on the benefits in terms of mental health. There’s a master student in the college at the moment who has done a dissertation on this subject, about accessing into mental health supports. In that case, it was group work.

What the internet has done is, for example, one of the key barriers for access is stigma, and a lack of understanding about what is occurring to them. Whereas the internet opens up avenues to engage with others who are in a similar predicament, therefore reducing the stress around gaining services and reducing the stress around what is happening to the individual. So in the case of anxiety, or depression, or whatever the case may be, that there’s access, and it’s not about accessing services, it’s about seeing that what is occurring to the child or to the adolescent.

But of course, there are other big worries. Never before was there a possibility to facilitate cognitive dissonance, like the internet, where you can literally exist among the group who have exactly the same ideas as you have, for good and for bad. The bad side of it is sensationalized on the media. But it can be much more subtle than that and the way in which social media works contributes hugely to cognitive dissonance because it’s based on this system.

Social Media and Mental Health, Get The Online Offline Balance Right

Social media can be a terrific tool for good. It helps to keep in touch with friends and family and keep up to date what all that’s happening. At the same time, it’s important to be aware of its impact on your mental health. If you take on the tips above and start using them today, chances are it will improve the experience you have with social media and with your phone.

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