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Social media affects mental health

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Andrew Alonzo
Staff Writer

At a time when social media has exploded into a market of its own, chances are you probably have an account somewhere in the realm of Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat.

Whether you are an avid user or an average meme lord, there is no escaping social media because it consumes many of us. As more research emerges about social media linking more young adults with mental health issues like depression, anxiety and loneliness, is social media a threat to our health?

According to makeuseof.com, which broke down the top 20 social media sites as of 2019, of the top 5, No. 4 was the only professional business site: LinkedIn, whereas more social sites like Facebook (No. 1), Instagram (No. 2), Twitter (No. 3), and Snapchat were left rounding out the list.

You are probably checking that notification instead of reading this article.

According to broadbandsearch.net, average social media use amongst users has been rising since 2012, when people would only spend about 90 minutes per day on social media.  That number is expected to rise up to over two hours of social media use per day in 2019. In addition to our minutes, the number of profiles is also projected to increase with just under 3 billion by the end of 2019. 

“Before I had a phone, I used to read a ton, but now not so much. So, it definitely takes away most of the time that I could be using for homework,” Yessica Rodriguez Soria, an undeclared freshman, said. 

In January 2019 experimental psychologists Amy Orben and Andrew K. Przybylski dove into the research published in their article titled “The association between adolescent well-being and digital technology use.” 

Orben and Przybylski found a relatively small association linking social media use to the well-being or mental state of an individual. 

“I’m up for most of the day so I’d say I’m on social media at least seven hours a day,” Kaelyn Oliver, freshman business administration major, said. “I keep my social media to stay connected with my friends who go to school across the country but it also can make you more depressed and you judge yourself more because of it.”

According to psychologists, students aged 8 to 18 place a high emphasis on their social media persona which may ultimately factor into our perception of who we are. 

Nicole Mahrer Malotte, assistant professor of psychology, said that when people spend too much time developing that aspect while neglecting your personal life, it can show the negative side effects of social media.

“I think social media’s a new opportunity because in the past you were stuck with what your family and friends saw of you and now you can be someone new,” Mahrer said. 

Bailey Parnell, founder and CEO of SkillsCamp, a training company that works with various employers to help their staff develop skills for personal and professional success, gave a TED Talk regarding social media’s unintended long term consequences on our mental health. 

Parnell identifies four main stressors all linked together that can be detrimental to our mental health if left unchecked.

The first stressor Parnell introduced was the highlight reel. Social media is our own highlight reel as we tend to showcase only our most decorated and brightest moments in our lives. We are constantly comparing our highlight reel to other people.

Parnell linked our highlight reel into the second stressor, social currency (like, shares, posts) increasing the economy of attention. Every like we get attributes to our self “product.’’ We take our pictures off social media if we do not get as many likes as we initially thought. In other words – if people don’t care about your “product,” you take it off the shelf until the next big post.

“When we were in grade school the teacher gave us a gold star and it made us feel good, so we wanted another one,” Christine Rodriguez, adjunct professor of sociology, said. “We’re a complex society and always busy so the only way we can get that gratification of ‘hey somebody likes me’ is to get those likes on social media.”

This social currency feeds into the fear of missing out on important information, events or highlights on the majority of platforms.

Further research into her topic explained nearly seven out of 10 Canadian college students said they would deactivate their social media accounts if it were not for the fact they would be missing out on information and updates.

The final stressor that Parnell addresses is when all three combine to form online harassment.

She implores us to realize our actions online, whether large or small, play a part in someone’s life.

The micro harassments that happen consistently among peers eventually snowballs into a macro-problem.

“The media at large plays a part in how we internalize the idea of, ‘If I don’t look like that, then I am not as good as other people,’” Rodriguez said. “We’re humans, we need to have interaction and doing it digitally may leave us dissatisfied so we try to use more of it to fill the dissatisfaction we initially feel.” 

In July, Instagram announced that it would be test running a feature that could hide the total number of likes and video views for some users around the globe. 

A spokesperson for Instagram explained that the company wanted users to be more content-oriented and driven rather focused on the number of likes the post received.

However, the announcement came with mixed reactions as users fell on the “I don’t really care” or “Oh my goodness my life is over” ends of the scale. This is interesting as in a Harvard study, they identified users who get consistent notifications, like likes on Instagram, receive a burst of dopamine. 

“I’m always looking for things that make me laugh,” Daniella la Luz, sophomore political science major, said. “While we’re able to expand our globalization with social media, we’re so enveloped in it we also disconnect with the person right next to us.”

No matter how we spend our 150 minutes daily on social media, it’s important to remember not to get so wrapped up in our digital lives. 

Parnell closed her talk saying the dark side of social media is what we should really be focused on. What we say and how we interact online is critical as social media has become a major role in our society. 

In case you missed National Mental Health Day on Oct. 10, here are a few ways to promote your mental health as courtesy of Mental Health First Aid: take the day-off work, reach out to talk with someone, go out with your friends, family, or significant other, and practice a balanced diet.

And if you really cannot put down your phone, some apps to help you relax and are free include: Calm, Headspace and Moodpath. You can also search ‘meditation’ on the iPhone App Store or Google Play. 

Andrew Alonzo can be reached at andrew.alonzo@laverne.edu.

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