Bemused about the relationship between Social Media and Mental Health?

There is no denying the ways in which social media adds to our lives - connections with friends and family; support groups; inspiring images and videos; a plethora of information and education; positive messages; and plenty of fodder for a belly laugh. It’s difficult to imagine Covid without it!

However, we cannot have a conversation about social media without acknowledging the ways in which is causes distress - bullying, social comparisons, ‘selective’ versions of people’s lives and negative messages - are all very real. Within a social media context, our natural human quest to feel valued is externalised, magnified and never satiated - the bar is constantly being raised.

While there is contradictory evidence in the research around social media use - there is little doubt it negatively affects mental health, with 'associations' to depression, social anxiety and psychological distress - particularly amongst teenagers.

Social media is here to stay (most of us like it that way!) - so how can we make the most of this wonderful resource, whilst managing the negative impacts on mental health? Recent research provides some interesting clues- one in particular, I thought worth sharing.

Research undertaken in the US made a clear distinction between ‘passive’ and ‘active’ social media use and the measurable differences in symptoms of depression: 'passive' use was associated with higher symptoms of depression; while 'active' use showed no significant association, or in fact a decrease in symptoms of depression*.

So what does ‘active’ and ‘passive’ use actually look like?

Passive social media use includes reading discussions, comments and reviews; watching or viewing; passive scrolling; and maintaining no engagement with content and others.

Active social media use on the other hand, involves actions such as making connections; sharing others' content; frequently engaging with others through comments and messages; and creating your own content (sharing life experiences; text/stories; audio and video). Interestingly, researchers suggest 'liking' is not considered 'active' as it is not seen to be 'actively seeking' information to connect or create shareable content.

If building healthier social media use (for you and your children) is important to you - think about the ways in which you might work towards becoming a more 'active' user.

Do less:

- passively scrolling

- passively 'following' others

- simply clicking 'like' without reading or engaging with the content

- monitoring for likes and approval, which only builds an external compass of self-worth.

Do more:

- actively engage with content that resonates with you

- communicate with others and build relationships / connections

- create more of your own content through sharing comments, shares and stories.

The overwhelming benefits of this could be:

- less envy and social comparison, which leads to more satisfaction and gratitude in your own life

- increased social capital (the relationships that positively contribute to wellbeing)

- healthier development (and maintenance) of an internal compass of self-worth

- presenting a healthy role model to your children (do as I do!).

Active use of social media is targeted. It's about being selective. It's about setting limits for the time you spend each day (apps can do this!). It's about being mindful that what you see is not necessarily what you get, or the 'whole picture'. It's about engaging with and connecting to - in an effort to enjoy all it has to offer whilst taking care of your wellbeing.

Make social media work for you and your mental health - engage and get active!

Source and further reading:

Escobar-Viera, César & Shensa, Ariel & Bowman, Nicholas & Sidani, Jaime & Knight, Jennifer & James, A. & Primack, Brian. (2018). Passive and Active Social Media Use and Depressive Symptoms Among United States Adults. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. 21. 437-443. 10.1089/cyber.2017.0668.