About 40% of the entire world’s population uses social media, spending an average of about 2 hours on various platforms throughout their day. The staggering statistic is reflective of how social media has evolved into an integral part of the landscape of communication & connectivity. Researchers continue to investigate the impact of this new medium on our mental health and a vast amount of the current literature centers on the negative impact of social media utilization, highlighting issues such as body dysmorphia & eating disorders, narcissism, addictive behaviors, self-esteem issues, depression, and anxiety. According to Festinger’s Social Comparison Theory, how we view ourselves is based on our perception of other people and their lives. As social beings, we evaluate ourselves in various domains (wealth, education, physical attributes, etc.) based on how we compare to others. The innate need to compare ourselves to others is problematic when combined with social media content that often misrepresents, or exaggerates, an unattainable ideal — but what if it’s not all bad?
Could there be some positive effects of social media on mental health?
According to Naslund, Aschbrenner, Marsch, & Bartels (2016), individuals with severe mental illness are turning to social media for peer-to-peer support. The connectivity of social media is providing a network for individuals who may not have access to local support groups, or perhaps experience a sense of isolation in their communities. In fact, the digital space is changing the overall framework for mental health by reducing the mental health stigma, providing more resources and information to those who may not have access, and creating a safe space for important discussions. While research is limited, the same phenomenon could be applicable to many different groups of people who, for various reasons, are finding a more positive support system online. Social media users are staying connected with family & friends, but they are also using social platforms as a resource to better understand themselves and the world around them. I personally have been able to connect with so many like-minded creative individuals from diverse backgrounds through this medium. Social media helps me learn, network, expand my business, explore new friendships, and overall adds an enriching, yet often complicated layer to life.
So if social media is harmful for some, but helpful for others — what does this mean? It means that social media is simply a medium through which we communicate. It is not good or bad — a symptom, perhaps, but not the problem.
As influencers, we not only have to consider the impact of social media on our own mental health, but we also have a responsibility to consider our impact on our followers. It sounds obvious, right? However, during the race to create & proliferate the best and most content, we often forget to think about how intrusive our behavior can be on others. Personally, I choose not to inundate my followers with email blasts, excessive posting, and notifications because like all things, moderation is key, and if I find myself overwhelmed by the volume of content I consume, I imagine others experience the same. Balance means something different to each individual, and I try to reduce the amount of intrusive content and focus more on community. Modern marketing may not totally approve of this approach, but I think less is more — better content, less notifications, more meaningful relationships.
Naslund, J., Aschbrenner, K., Marsch, L., & Bartels, S. (2016). The future of mental health care: Peer-to-peer support and social media. Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences, 25(2), 113-122. doi:10.1017/S2045796015001067