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Relationships are formed in many ways and can be crucial for maintaining mental health, but some suggest social media could harm mental health.
Social media can include social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, although the term is broad. Victoria Dunckley, a psychiatrist in private practice in Los Angeles, said she considers social media to include blogs and forums as well.
“In general, I’m kind of anti-social media, at least for the patients that I see,” Dunckley said. “I think pretty much any kind of screen time in general can contribute to pretty much any psychiatric illness, because it causes changes in the brain, it causes sleep problems, and socially it can cause isolation.”
Any type of screen, either a computer, cell phone or TV, could affect mental health in some way, she said.
“There’s various pathways that can get triggered,” Dunckley said. “One thing that can happen is it can trigger dopamine release … it feels good while they’re doing it, but then when they stop, they can have kind of a dopamine withdrawal.”
However, these reactions do depend on the individual.
“That’s sort of dependent on the individual’s brain chemistry,” Dunckley said. “If someone’s kind of having mood problems or attention problems already, then they’re more likely to have that happen when they come off, they might feel irritable or kind of disorganized and out of it. Other people might be able to go on social media sites for half an hour, an hour, and then get off and feel fine.”
She advises patients she treats to reduce or eliminate social media use, but for everyone else they just have to make sure their other areas of life are healthy.
“For a healthy person, it can still cause problems if they’re using it to an extent that it’s interfering with other areas of their life,” Dunckley said. “So someone might not have a psychiatric disorder, but they can still experience problems from using social media.”
She gives the example of young women who has self-esteem or identity issues using social media.