How
does social media affect mental health?

Social media is “websites and applications that enable users to create
and share content or to participate in social networking”1. Over
recent years social media has grown rapidly and changed the way in which we
communicate and interact with people all over the world. Mental health is “our
emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel,
and act”2. Mental
health is a huge issue currently and among teenagers’ mental health issues such
as depression and anxiety have increased by up to 70% in the past 25 years3. I
chose this question as social media is something that I use daily, and at times
I feel as if it has a negative impact on my own mental health so I wanted to
explore social media’s effects on mental health.

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UK

A report written by Emily Frith, in June 2017 looks at social media and
mental health in children and young adults in the UK. “On average in 2016,
16-24 year olds report spending 29 hours browsing the internet each week”4. These
statistics from the report show the shocking amount of time that young adults
spend online. The use of social media is also very damaging for teenagers’
self-esteem and body image. With the rise of ‘Instagram’ came an “abundance of
idealised images of beauty”. The constant bombardment of these high beauty
standards takes a toll on young people’s self-esteem and has a drastic effect
on their wellbeing. Some statistics to support this point show that “Nearly
half of girls have tried to lose weight by the age of 17 and a third of boys
have felt under pressure to be muscly” and also a shocking 58% of teenagers
said at some point they have felt “jealous, negative or insecure” just because
of social media.5
These statistics are from Sky News and were published in May 2017, so are very
recent and Sky News is viewed as quite a reliable source. However, the report by
Frith also acknowledges that social media can have a “positive impact”. The
benefits of social media are that it allows for “increasing social connections”
and also “enables teenagers to develop their identities.”

From these two articles, we learn that
social media has had a huge impact on young people’s self-esteem and body
confidence. The ever-perfecting standards seemingly set for social media users,
knocks and damages confidence daily leaving users feeling depressed and
insecure. The report also looks at responses to this issue, in particular the
UK Government and what they are doing to help. In September 2014, to battle
online safety concerns the government “introduced age-appropriate lessons on e-safety across all
stages of the National Curriculum”. This includes teaching children how to use
the internet “safely and respectfully”, how to keep personal information
“private” and also if they have any concerns where to go for help.

The first report is written by Emily
Frith who is the Director of Mental Health, and the report was commissioned by
the Education Policy Institute. Frith has written many other reports on
children and mental health and this leads us to believe that she is well
informed on what she is writing about. I regard this report as reliable as it
is a recent source (June 2017) and the Education Policy Institute claims to be
“an independent, impartial and evidence based research institute”. The report
not only looks at negative impacts of social media but makes a point to spot
the positive implications it can have, this makes the report representative of
social media as not all suffer with bad experiences on there.

RSPH (Royal Society for
Public Health) and Young Health movement are campaigning for the government to
take further action. Their suggestions include “social media platforms to
identify users who could be suffering from mental health by their posts” and
“social media platforms to highlight when photos of people have been digitally
manipulated”6 (taken from their full report titled #StatusOfMind).
Shirley Cramer (chief executive of RSPH) said that social media is
“intrinsically linked to mental health”. In the UK, we can see that the rise of
mental health issues, through social media, is becoming increasingly recognised
and steps are being taken to change the repercussions that social media can
bring about for mental wellbeing. The RSPH is an independent charity so is
reliable, and as their aim as a charity is the “improvement of the public’s
health and wellbeing” they will be knowledgeable on mental health so their
report should be trustworthy.

Sweden

Sweden is ranked the 10th
happiest country in the world7
by CNBC. In Sweden, there is an officially approved mental health policy (2010)
which includes “timeline for implementation of the mental health plan” and
“Integration of mental health services into primary care”8.
This shows how the government are taking action to help mental health problems,
even though it is a few years old. For males, the suicide rates are 18.1% per
100,000 and for females it is 8.3% per population so there still is room for
improvement, however these figures are from 2011 so are outdated and not
reliable. However, when looking at the suicide rates for 2017 male suicide has
decreased to 17.6% per 100,000 and decreased for females again to 7.6% per
100,000.9

The facts that I have used
came from WHO (World Health Organisation), it is “a specialised agency of the
United Nations that is concerned with international public health”10.
I would regard WHO as a reliable source, as they’re a trusted organisation and
provide information without bias. However, the information that I accessed was
not recent (2011) so will not be showing the correct information for now, but
after another look it was easy to find more recent date data. The report that I
did look at however focused more on the mental health services in general for
example the facilities, workforce and information systems, rather than
statistics of mental health. It also did not address the question that am I
trying to answer, so this limited the report for me.

Social media use in Sweden has
been on the rise over the past few years, and now “82
percent use the internet daily”11.
Mobile phones are commonly used in Sweden and “78 percent of the population
uses the internet via mobile phone” and by the age of 8 around 55% already have
their own smartphone. The internet and social media are hugely popular in
children and youth, especially with girls, “56 percent of girls are daily users
compared to 42 percent of boys in the same age”. It is also reported that it is
teen girls who have the most “trouble” online, “28 percent of girls have been
victims of bullying, compared to 15 percent of the boys”.

The article I used for this data came
from the ‘iiS’ and was published in November 2016, so the information provided
should be relatively up to date. The article was the yearly report that shows
“change and development” in the usage of internet of the Swedish population.
The ‘iiS’ is an “independent public-service organization that acts to ensure
the positive development of the internet”12.
I would treat this source as credible as it is an independent source, so will
offer unbiased thoughts and facts that are correct as they specialise in the
internet field.

From the information that I have gathered, I can
see that although Sweden is known for being one of the happiest countries it
also suffers with mental health issues. We can see from the information that I
looked at that suicide rates did decrease from 2011-2017. During this time,
social media really increased in popularity and if it did have a detrimental
effect on mental health then we would have expected an increase in suicide
rates. However, we don’t know how many people are silently suffering with
mental health problems due to the increase of social media.

Australia

Australia is another country that is a “prolific”13
social media user. As of September 2017, it is reported that Facebook has a
reported 15,000,000 monthly active Australian users, this means that
“approximately 7 in 10 Australians use Facebook”. 50% of the country log in and
use social media every day. This data is extremely up to date (September 2017)
so can be regarded as reliable as it is recent.

A report by the Sternberg Clinic looks at “social
media and its impact on mental health”14.
A piece of research was carried out and it was “The social and psychological
impact of online social networking”. It involved 1800 Australians, and the results
showed that 51% visited social media sites several times a day and felt a “need”
to log on. The research carried out also makes sure to highlight the positive
implications that social media can have on people. “53% found
that social networking sites increased their contact with friends and family”,
this shows how social media can be a good addition to people’s lives and the
research showed that this increased communication “lead to an improvement in
self-esteem and mental health”. However, as we have seen previously social
media can leave people with a negative experience as 28% said they experienced
“bullying” or “unwanted contact”. This article further goes on to look at the
more positive aspects of social media again, this time in teenagers in particular.
Marilyn price-Mitchell wrote about her findings in “Inside the digital lives of
teens”, and reported that apparently teens have very positive experiences on
social media. She wrote that the positive effects of social media include
“increased confidence, improved social interactivity, more sympathy, less
depression, less shyness and increased popularity”, and only 5% said they had a
negative experience. These findings are quite the opposite as to what is being
reported in the UK.

 

This article
shows how social media doesn’t have to have negative impacts, and is very
different to other articles that I have looked at as it shows a new viewpoint.
The article is from Sternberg Clinic located in Australia, which is a
“multidisciplinary service” which offers a “wide variety” of therapies to help
those suffering with mental illnesses. The centre has psychologists, psychiatrists,
social workers and other health professionals so its information should be
factually correct. It is extremely up to date information as was published
December 2017, and is a credible source as it looks at both sides of the argument.

 

Conclusion

At the
beginning of this essay I thought that although many people enjoy social media
and use it correctly and get lots out of it, there is also a dark side to
social media where many people’s mental health can suffer. I have seen through
the three points of views that I have looked at that the impacts of social
media really differ from country to country. In the UK, the findings are mainly
negative and they show the drawbacks that social networking can have, but now
the government are trying to take action. Sweden, although known as one of the
happiest countries, does struggle with mental health issues, whether they are
directly related or not to social media remains unclear for me, but Sweden is
making sure it tries to improve mental health for its citizens. The information
I looked at for Australia was a real eye opener for me, and it highlighted to
me how beneficial social media can be for so many people in improving their
mental wellbeing. So, at the end of this essay my opinion has changed from
viewing social media as something to be feared, as to something that is useful
and fun for so many. Obviously, it comes with its dangers and many haven’t had
the best experience which has affected their mental health, but I believe that
the advantages, e.g. connect to people all over the world, fun and enjoyment,
instant communication and opportunities15, outweigh
any possible disadvantages.

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