The twenty-first century is the century of technology; social media is prevailing in every aspect of our lives and can be quite convenient in many cases such as socializing and advertising. Unfortunately, social media comes with many disadvantages as well; it has often been linked to body-shaming, online bullying, sleep deprivation, and depression in adolescents, who happen to be the main focus group of social media apps. It seems that these conditions have become more common than in the former decennia.
According to UNICEF (2019), one out of five adolescents suffer from mental health issues, whereof depression and anxiety are most prevalent. Is this upsurge due to the eradication of the taboo around mental disorders – in which social media has also played a role – and people are not as reprehensive to admit their depression and anxiety issues? Or is there simply an actual increase of these mental illnesses due to societal changes such as the increased use of social media?
Correlation Mental Health and Social Media
A lot of research has been done on whether social media plays a role in the actual cause of the growing numbers of depression and anxiety. What all these different researches have in common is that they agree that social media indeed plays a part in the increase of depression and anxiety, however, no researcher seems to be quite sure what exactly causes it; the time spent on social media, the number of apps being used, the contents of the social media or the rules which social media adheres to.
Heather Woods, for example, researched whether the amount of time spent on social media would cause depression and/or anxiety. Her findings were that the amount of time spent on social media did not have such a great effect as she expected. However, the number of different apps being used by a single person seemed to have a more apparent relation to depression and anxiety. She linked this to the phenomenon of FOMO: the fear of missing out.
The role of social media is very controversial; though research shows that social media is causing an increase in depression and anxiety, social media has also undergone a very positive change. Apps like Instagram and Tumblr contain a platform that is working very hard on eliminating the taboo of depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide by opening the possibility of conversation about these topics.
For example, the hashtag #RealConvo which was launched on Instagram which encourages people to share more authentic moments and make mental health an open discussion. Many influencers, such as rapper Aminé, have joined the hashtag on the @afspnational account (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention) to talk about his mental struggles (Todd). Other influencers, for example, Zoella, have decided to open up about her mental health issues on YouTube to destigmatize depression and anxiety and so show their followers that struggles are normal and can be overcome.
Besides popular apps creating a more open environment towards these mental health issues, there are also apps coming into existence that focus solely on helping those who are feeling depressed. For instance, the social networking app Elefriends, which was designed by the mental health charity called Mind. This app was created so that people struggling with mental health issues, can communicate with each other anonymously, in a positive manner.
UNICEF, Adolescent mental health.
Woods, H. C., & Scott, H., #Sleepyteens: Social media use in adolescence is associated with poor sleep quality, anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.