According to the findings of a study conducted by UC San Diego and Yale, it may be time to start taking the advice you routinely dole out to your children and log-off of social media for a while. The study, which monitored the Facebook activity, mental health, and body-mass index of 5,208 adults over a two-year period, found that, while real-world social networks are positive for overall well-being, the use of Facebook and other social networks is not. Facebook’s impact on mental health was discovered to be less than positive.
Too Much Facebook Is Bad for Your Emotional Well-Being
For all those people who have begun to wonder, “Is Facebook bad,” science says yes, it is, particularly for your mental health. In addition to the findings from the UC San Diego/Yale study telling us so, numerous other studies say so as well.
Countless studies show a strong link between excessive social media use and poorer mental health, including anxiety, depression, feelings of isolation, lower self-esteem, and even suicidality. One such study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania followed 140 undergraduates’ use of Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram.
As expected, the researchers found that students who limited their social media use to just 30 minutes a day (total) over a three-week period reported feeling “significantly better” at the end of the study than they did at the beginning. Those students, especially those who reported high levels of depression at the start of the study, reported reduced loneliness and depression. Their counterparts, who did not alter their social media use, reported no change or even heightened symptoms.
Causation Behind the Facebook Risks
“Facebook and social media, in general, have the ability to negatively impact mental health in a few ways,” Dr. Alexa Mieses, MD, MPH, a practicing family physician and associate professor, tells Parentology. “Social media showcases the highlights of someone’s life. Rarely do people post the real ups and downs they experience. Instead, it’s a string of fun vacations and birthday parties. This can paint an unrealistic picture of how life is ‘supposed to be’ and can contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression.”
Mieses’ explanation echoes that given by the researchers of the Facebook study depression. According to the research team, people strive to avoid posting about negative or upsetting experiences, thereby contributing to a misleading environment in which everyone seems to be having more fun and doing better than you are.
“There is also the emphasis on ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ and getting validation from that instead of meaningful connections,” Mieses continues. “[This] can impact self-esteem, especially in youth, and shape expectations regarding social exchanges.”
Mieses also addresses cyberbullying, which has been the trigger behind many teen suicides in recent years. “Social media can create a feeling of anonymity that can make youth (and adults) feel less responsible for their actions. This often leads to cyberbullying.”
Facebook “Creates the Illusion of Closeness”
The researchers behind the study also noted that not only does social media use create the illusion of closeness but also takes users away from the real world and real connections, thereby resulting in loneliness and isolation. Adina Mahalli (MSW), a certified mental health expert and family care specialist, agrees with this sentiment.
“Although social media has created a mirage of unparalleled interconnectivity, the truth is that we are living in a reality in which we are more alone than ever,” Mahalli tells Parentology. “Online relationships may be ‘connecting’ people like never before, but more and more people have given up genuine human connection. As a result, we are seeing massive spikes in depression, loneliness, and other mental health issues. Considering that humans evolved as social creatures, isolation can have intense and earth-shattering consequences.
“[Social media] is not inherently evil, and [you] don’t have to avoid them altogether,” she concedes. “But it is important to remember that there is almost nothing social about social media.”
Facebook’s Impact on Mental Health — Sources
Pocket: A 2-Year Study of More Than 5,000 People Shows This 1 Activity Destroys Your Emotional and Physical Health
Dr. Alexa Mieses, MD, MPH, practicing family physician and associate professor in Durham, NC
Adina Mahalli (MSW), a certified mental health expert and family care specialist with Maple Holistics
Forbes: New Studies Show Just How Bad Social Media Is For Mental Health