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Worry about the QUALITY, Not the QUANTITY of Social Media Use

Content from MindWise Innovations, a division of Riverside Community Care:

Smartphones and social media apps are ubiquitous. Those who resist the twenty-first century trend and boycott Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, or other platforms are now the exception rather than the rule. Finding someone with no social media footprint is like stumbling upon a unicorn. But what effect this near-constant use of social media has on our behavioral health remains largely unknown. Research is digging deeper into the interaction of our social media habits and behavioral health, but there is still much to learn.

Popular opinion – and some studies – point to social media use as a factor in aggravating mental health. FOMO (fear of missing out) is often cited among the chief dangers of spending too much time on social media. A study published last year in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology found significant reductions in feelings of loneliness and depression in a group of undergraduates who were directed to limit their use of Facebook, Instagram, and SnapChat to no more than 10 minutes per day over a three-week period. These findings seem to indicate a negative relationship; however, the study’s control group – who did not limit their social media use but were aware of the study – also reported significant decreases in anxiety and FOMO, suggesting that mindfulness in how we use social media might be all that’s needed to counteract any potential adverse effects.

A review of scholarly papers from the last decade published in JMIR Mental Health yielded similarly contradictory information – use of social networking sites (referred to as SNSs in the study) was not itself associated with negative outcomes. When social media interactions were positive and reinforced social support and connectedness, such use correlated with lower levels of depression and anxiety. Conversely, negative interactions and social comparisons on SNSs related to increased levels of depression and anxiety.

More conclusive results come from a study published earlier this year in Body Image. Female undergraduates were split into two groups: one group was to engage on social media with a peer they saw as attractive and the other with a family member. Those who interacted with an attractive peer experienced an increase in feelings of negative body image. Here the act of utilizing social media appears to be directly linked with detrimental behavioral health effects.

On the other hand, there is a growing body of research examining how social media might be utilized to complement more traditional behavioral health treatments. Social media provides an avenue for those struggling with their mental health or substance use to find an online community of individuals with similar circumstances. This sort of peer-to-peer support has great potential as a treatment resource. Another promising area of study involves using an individual’s social media history to predict the likelihood of developing depression. One study of Twitter-users was able to classify – with 70% accuracy – those who were diagnosed with depression through analysis of their previous year’s posts, which theoretically would allow for earlier identification and treatment.

Finally, a paper published in May in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences “found that social media use is not, in and of itself, a strong predictor of life satisfaction across the adolescent population.” Although this study focused on adolescents, this age group by far has the largest social media usage. And while there is no overwhelming consensus that social media use is “good” or “bad” for our behavioral health, we can conclude that care is needed in how we approach online communities.

At MindWise, we believe strongly in harnessing new technologies to benefit our behavioral health. Thus we’re excited about the potential of social media to be a new treatment resource for those struggling with their mental health or substance use. At the same time, we believe that caution is necessary and more information is needed to ascertain how best to make use of emerging technologies for the betterment of our health.

For some tips on how to build a health relationship with social media, check out this blog post.

If you would like to learn more about MindWise Innovations, a division of Riverside Community Care, please visit the MindWise website.

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