Social Media and Mental Health

James Cantu

February 7th, 2018

An illustration of Facebook logo, on May 9, 2016. Photo provided by Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto/Sipa USA

“I hate myself and I want to die.”

A tweet like that would probably would garner a few sympathetic likes, a retweet or two, maybe even quoted with something motivational or feel good. On a rare occasion, depending on your friend group and amount of followers, you may even get a direct message from a pal who has quoted the tweet asking if you’re okay.

I know I probably sound like your grandpa or parents when I start critiquing social medias perceived harm and benefits for the technologically aware. I get it. Twitter is fun, and social media helps you stay connected to those semi-friends from high school whose Snapchat stories you sometimes go through when you’ve got nothing else going on.

But sometimes I wonder if the old adage, “Too much of a good thing is a bad thing,” is out of date, or particularly relevant when applied to our ever increasingly connected digital society?

I plan on discussing my thoughts on social media’s effects on our mental health in three aspects: on the perception of ourselves, the perception of ourselves in relation to others, and the perceived positive effects social media can have on mental health.

Social media can be a tool used to inflate our ego. Most likely, you know of a person–or you are that person–who likes to post breakfast, brunch, lunch, pre-dinner, dinner, and post dinner meals, or countless gym selfies showing off those #gains.

For whatever the reason for those posts (peer pressure to “stack up,” to just wanting to show off what your momma gave you), stroking the ego in moderation isn’t a bad thing, per-say. Confidence is good. Self love via public bathroom selfies are good. Immortalizing happy memories on the interweb that you could look back on when feeling lonely is good.

What isn’t good is using social media in such a way that it warps the perception of oneself so much that the images and posts aren’t necessarily conveying you, but a self fabricated ideal or persona of you that is realistically achievable.

For example, that oddly motivational, free spirited hippie girl you met on a high school trip who only posts inspirational tweets mixed with indie aesthetic photos has developed a theme, image, or even a brand.

She may feel pressured to keep up that persona, or even wholly invest in the idea that she must always be a happy hippy, and anything other than that is bad. No one can be happy and motivational all the time, and, therefore,  that persona hippie girl has set up is ultimately unachievable.

Over time, trying to strive to live out your own fabricated ideal of yourself (health nut, fashionista), and eventually falling short of that ideal (ate a doughnut, paired stripes with plaid) would hurt the psyche as much as the confidence gained from the number of likes your last selfie got helped it.

This helpful-harmful relationship social media has creates a cycle of dependence on it. I won’t delete instagram because my last post got X amount of likes, and, therefore, that ego boost makes up for me internally beating myself up for not living up to my online persona in real life.

Speaking of hurting the psyche, nothing seems like a more obvious harm to it than comparing ourselves to others online. For example, comparing the amount of likes or views your latest post got with someone else’s can garner emotions ranging from insecurity, to envy, to anger.

Comparisons are abusive, but it takes a special type of awareness to recognize a difference between yourself and what you have, with someone else and what they have,  and not make it detrimental.

For all the flack social media gets, it does have redeeming qualities that promote mental health. Social media exposes us to a wide range of people, while i’m not denying that there’s a portion that can negatively affect our mental health by promoting negative ideals, there’s also a portion that promote self care, while sharing their own experiences in order let others know that they’re not alone.

When affirmations and experience sharing are not enough, there are various resources that promote the discussion of mental health, while listing specific hotlines for those who need it. For example, just recently #bellletstalk was a trending hashtag on twitter that dedicates a certain amount of money to mental health initiatives for each retweet it receives.

While I can’t say if the positives of social media outweigh the negatives, or exist only to counteract the negatives, I know that social media will continue to be an integral part in society. Therefore, it is important to be conscious and critical of certain aspects and habits we partake in, in order to not cause ourselves any undo harm.

James Cantu

Opinions Editor

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