Multiple studies have come out showing both harmful and beneficial effects of social media sites like Facebook. So which one is it?
Does interacting with friends or acquaintances via the Internet improve your quality of life, or does it just bring you down in different ways?
One recent survey conducted by the Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt had results suggesting that Facebook can affect body image, according to a press release.
According to the survey results, “51 percent of respondents said that seeing photos of themselves make them more conscious about their body and weight.” Also, “only 25 percent of respondents said they are happy with their current body and weight.”
Of the 600 Facebook users between ages 16 to 40 that participated in the survey, “12 percent said they currently have or have had an eating disorder. Eight percent said they have thought they may have an eating disorder.”
The term "Facebook depression" has even made its away across the media, suggesting that excessive Facebook use can lead to depression, although groups and websites like Help For Depression question the validity of a link between Facebook and depression.
Other studies suggest positive mental health associated with Facebook users. One study featured in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking shows that many people experience a positive mood state when using social networking sites like Facebook.
Experts provide their insight into this important issue that affects an increasing number of people.
Alisa Land, a psychiatrist who works at Bridges to Recovery, said in an email that social media really can have both positive and negative effects on mental health.
“In my view, social media has become a sort of modern two-edged sword, with potential to heal or harm an individual's mental health,” Land said.
“Users can benefit from a sense of social connectedness and community, maintaining a sense of continuity with friends and colleagues both in one's present and from one's past. This medium can thus lessen the feelings of isolation that can worsen most mental health conditions and provide a forum to share life experiences and interests with a far-flung community of individuals.”
Just like in real life, users of social media sites can feel left out and depressed if their social life isn’t what they want it to be.
“This enlarged virtual community can also cause individuals to feel rejected or excluded (such as when viewing pictures of friends or acquaintances at an event to which one was not invited), thus worsening feelings of inadequacy and poor self esteem,” Land said. “Further, when relationships experience strain, such as a breakup or fight, these events can be made public through social networks in very damaging ways.”
“On a broader societal level, I feel on-line social networks can both provide a forum for many practical positive functions, whether marketing and business expansion, raising social awareness of certain issues, or encouraging participation in an event or rallying for a cause. Yet this too has potential for harm, whether deepening feelings of depression if one's project or idea is not well-received, or even potentiating incipient mania if one's ideas incite a very large on-line following.”
Another problem can result if people only communicate with others online, and not in person.
“Some confuse a large virtual community (many ‘friends’ for example on Facebook) for an actual cohort of true friends,” Land said.
“Individuals may misplace time and effort into connecting with online people rather than building face to face experiential relationships that tend to be more durable and lasting, particularly in times of crisis. Research suggests that 'negative' or 'sad' posts generally receive poor responses from readers. Thus in difficult times, if one posts about one's distress, it may actually reduce one's social support.”
People also forget that other social media users tend to put an ideal image of themselves online, which doesn’t necessarily reflect who they actually are.
“A social network site, like one's webpage, is a context in which one can create an image of oneself and one's life; thus a distorted and often idealized version of oneself is depicted and others can feel inferior by comparison,” Land said.
“Usually people post their most attractive photos, most interesting activities, essentially the most glamorous version of their life. When an individual struggles with low depression and low self-worth, he or she may tend to focus on these idealized images and experiences without any rational softening, thus deepening their feelings of inadequacy and potentially contributing to depression, social anxiety, or even substance use.”
Land suggested that there are ways to turn social media use into a positive mental health experience instead of allowing it to lead to negativity.
“I believe social networks offer a valuable adjunct to share about our lives and connect about important causes. Yet I would argue that one should always keep an emphasis on building face-to-face relationships with family and friends, perhaps supplemented by communications online, rather than a primary focus on some on-line community,” she said.
“One should recognize the inherent bias in any social network site, realizing that all content is carefully selected and thus somewhat idealized,” Land added.
“Further, when an individual is suffering emotionally, I believe their best support would be through face-to-face encounters with peers and perhaps professionals. By increasing the time we spend 'unplugged,’ whether in nature, meditating, praying, or exercising or simply being with loved ones, we build a richer foundation for our own happiness. Ultimately, I believe our richest connections are those forged through shared experiences rather than through a computer screen.”
For further information, you can read the next part of my article about social media and mental health here: More Ways Facebook Can Affect our Daily Lives, Mental Health
Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt. Media Releases. Press Release. Public survey conduced by The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt reveals that Facebook drains body image and self-esteem. Web. April 12, 2012.
Mauri, M. et al. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking. PubMed. Why is Facebook so successful? Psychophysiological measures describe a core flow state while using Facebook. Web. April 12, 2012. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21879884
Land, Alisa. Email interview. April 11, 2012. http://www.bridgestorecovery.com/our-staff.html#Alisa
Reviewed April 13, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith