How social media affects mental health and our perception of reality


Video gaming has made a sport of shooting people, overshadowing the reality of such actions. Shows and movies demonstrate immoral actions as casual, avoiding the consequences of these behaviors. Magazines boast digitally adjusted perfect women, distressing the average girl as to why she doesn’t have perfect skin or body.

Does such exposure through the media influence our thoughts and behavior? Yes, it does.

Being “infoxicated”

Information is now more accessible than ever. However, this huge knowledge influx has led to an overabundance of info, or “infoxication.” Online content is often manufactured to match specific interests and personalities, possessing the ability to not only boost prevailing biases but demoralize us from learning new things.

Selective information

Sometimes we may intentionally filter information for ourselves, but online material is also unreservedly sifted based on what our friends or contacts discuss.

Paul Resnick and colleagues at the University of Michigan’s School of Information believe that “collectively, these filters will isolate people in information bubbles only partly of their own choosing, and the inaccurate beliefs they form as a result may be difficult to correct.”

Ironically, this leads to more ignorance than information. Confirmation bias, a renowned psychological penchant, defines how individuals instinctively misunderstand or twist new information to support their own current beliefs or attitudes.

A case of social media blues

New research from Ottawa Public Health shows the psychological toll on young people who frequently use social media. Around 750 students in grades seven through 12 answered questions about their social media usage, psychological well-being and mental health support. The study found teens who engaged in media sites for two or more hours a day suffered significantly from distress, suicidal thoughts and poor mental health.

Even though the study doesn’t prove a causal relationship, it depicts a likelihood of influence running both ways. Teens who are struggling with their mental health may be more likely to frequently use social media, while excessive use of social media use may gradually contribute to poor mental health.

“It could be that teens with mental health problems are seeking out interactions as they are feeling isolated and alone,” said Dr. Hugues Sampasa-Kanyinga, the study’s lead author. “Or they would like to satisfy unmet needs for face-to-face mental health support.”

The findings are in line with a 2012 study that found a correlation between social networking and depression in high school students. The association isn’t necessarily clear-cut, though.

Uncovering the solution in the problem

Getting kids off social media is not a likely solution. What can be done is to integrate mental health resources into this dynamic that already holds the teens’ attention.

“We see social networking sites, which may be a problem for some, also being a solution,” said Dr. Brenda K. Wiederhold of the Interactive Media Institute in San Diego. “Since teens are on the sites, it is the perfect place for public health and service providers to reach out and connect with this vulnerable population and provide health promotion systems and supports.”

White River Academy is a therapeutic boarding school for adolescent males dealing with addiction and mental health disorders. Mental health issues and increasing social media usage continues to impact teens. We are at the forefront of treating and destigmatizing such disorders to reach out to those in need. If you or a loved one is struggling to accomplish your true potential, contact us right away.

About the Author

Sana Ahmed is a journalist and social media savvy content developer with extensive research, print and on-air interview skills, Sana has previously worked as an editor for a business magazine and been an on-air news broadcaster. She writes to share the amazing developments from the mental health world and unsuccessfully attempts to diagnose her friends and family.      

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