Technology And Mental Illness: The Dark Side Of Social Media

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Despite the overwhelming benefits that technological advances have brought us in the past few decades, the negative consequences of social media are now apparent. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram alike – all have the potential to cause some serious issues like depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders.

Suicide rates are at an alarming high

Depression and anxiety are a natural part of morning talks over coffee. 

Antidepressants are prescribed seemingly as fast as babies are being born. 

(Okay, maybe not that last one. But you get what we’re saying).

Meanwhile, technology is booming, but it’s a double-edged sword. 

With sweeping and infinitely-expanding innovations in healthcare, business, retail, sustainable energy, and the overall lifestyle of ordinary, middle-class individuals in the United States, technology’s influence has reached astronomical proportions of 21st-century living.

With depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders statistically on the rise, scientists and common folk alike are asking the same question: why? 

Many are left to wonder whether the rate of mental illnesses is truly on the rise, or the stigma is lifting on mental disorders- or both.

However, today, we’re going to be focusing on only one small category of technology that has evident detrimental effects on mental health: social media.

Social Media And Young People

It started with myspace, then came Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. For people of all ages, social media is a platform to network, share thoughts, photos, articles, support causes, lend opinions, and broadcast personal messages that can potentially reach millions. A new twist on advertising, social media marketing, is often a large (and profitable) part of both small and corporate business marketing strategies worldwide. 

Of course, social media is maybe best understood by the younger generations – referred to as the millennials and “generation Z.” 

Strangely enough, it is in these generations that mental illness rates have climbed highest.

In children, teens, and young adults, social media can be especially detrimental to proper brain development as well as self-esteem. Social media can also:

  • Encourage and enable online bullying
  • Stop children from physically playing with each other and participating in other healthy hobbies and activities
  • Promote body image issues, such as body dysmorphia and eating disorders

One study even found that “Young adults aged 18-25 years had the highest prevalence of [any mental illness] (25.8%) compared to adults aged 26-49 years (22.2%) and aged 50 and older (13.8%)”.

So, what’s going on, and where’s the connection?

A lack of these normal childhood activities can cause kids to feel isolated in technological interaction disguised as true quality time with friends.

Let’s start with what happens to naturally tag along with social media usage, do to the fact that it’s on phones and computers: blue light. 

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All About Blue Light

Perhaps you have heard the term “blue light” thrown around in conversations in the media, or with peers, but not many people actually understand its true definition and possible side effects.

Blue is shown to:

  • Disrupt Sleep
  • Encourage disease development
  • Encourage an inability to focus

Harvard Health even claims that people ought to stop looking at screens as early as three hours before bedtime.

Of course, blue light is also derived from natural sources. However, people nowadays are actually receiving more of it than ever before. Of course, too much of a good thing is, well, a bad thing.

Instagram Addiction

If ten years ago, people were asked to predict how entirely groundbreaking an effect Instagram would have on the world, most would probably have gravely underestimated their response. Not many saw technology coming to the extent that it now has. 

Yet, here we all are, in the thick of perhaps one of the most innovative times on our planet. 

Instagram is a platform that remains booming, even almost ten years after its birth. Appealing to our innate love for visual learning, Instagram boasts one billion active users each month (yes, you heard that right: one billion users worldwide).

Over half of people aged 18-29 use Instagram. And, in a certain survey, Instagram was actually ranked the worst for mental health out of five social media platforms including Snapchat, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. 

Some of the negative mental health side effects included a worse body image, loneliness, depression, anxiety, and something called “FOMO”, or the fear of missing out. 

Instagram is a platform that has had a wild effect on our population in the past decade. Some of its effects are positive, while some of its aftermath is highly consequential. 

If someone doesn’t get enough likes on their photos, or as many as another peer, they may begin to feel inferior or even less loved. 

Comparison is also a prominent issue that platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and even Twitter encourage. Most people only highlight the best part of their lives on social media, which gives everyone a bit of a warped view of how life should be.

Not only this, but the comparison of body image is also a prevalent issue among young adults. In fact, across the world, the rate of eating disorders continues to climb as young people continuously see photoshopped photos on Instagram. 

There’s no doubt that an unhealthy amount of time spent on Instagram can contribute to people everywhere feeling less happy about their own lives.

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False Connection

Human beings are social creatures; it’s how we’ve survived for so long. 

Some animals don’t need to run in packs, but it’s our tribalism that has protected us for hundreds of thousands of years. Without our power of numbers, we probably would have gone extinct by now.

Despite anyone claiming that they are a “loner,” practically everyone needs someone to fulfill the biologically programmed brain spot in their brain for authentic human connections. 

Inadequate Socialization is a closely related booming problem due to Instagram and other smartphone-related interactions. It seems that, in the age of social media, nearly everyone is substituting a large portion of necessary in-person contact for online “socialization.”

At first, this socialization might seem sufficient, but it simply is not. 

This socialization is not real- it’s more like “mock” socialization. 

In order for most people to feel fulfilled, they need a certain amount of socialization time that includes in-person observation of facial expressions and body language. 

Besides this, physical touch releases a ton of endorphins that we’re missing out on if we don’t get to physically give our friends those beloved welcoming hugs at a get-together.

Most people in the 21st century (75% of millennials, in fact) report they’d rather text than call someone. 

No wonder there are rising rates of social anxiety – everyone is unlearning how to truly socialize with each other. However, texting and phone calls simply aren’t enough for our brains to function optimally.

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Staying In Solution

Listen, we’re in the year 2019. 

Technology can’t be completely avoided (and that’s not what we’re arguing, either), but it is possible to develop a healthier relationship with social media. 

There is a flip side to social media. Some of its benefits include:

  • The ability to spread information quickly
  • The ability to connect more with those who may live very far away from us
  • A quick, easy way to research businesses

Perhaps, there isn’t a black-and-white solution to what social media is doing to the mental health of people of all ages.

However, small things can help those who are interested in protecting themselves from the negative mental health repercussions of applications like Instagram and Facebook.

For example, to manifest a healthier, happier, and more responsible usage of social media (and technology in general), one might want to:

  • Limit their time on social media
  • Set their phone on “airplane mode” before going to sleep
  • Participate in activities that purposefully do not include phone use
  • Make it a point to put their phone away during social activities
  • Only subject themselves to healthy content, such as accounts that do not contribute to large amounts of comparison and thus make someone feel worse about themselves

All in all, social media isn’t the worst thing to happen to humanity. In fact, it’s got some serious perks. When used in moderation, social media can have an amazingly positive effect on individuals, but the key to this narrative is balance.

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