There has been increasing studies done into the use of social media and how it affects mental health. So far, the prognosis is that it could have a detrimental effect on mental wellbeing.
However, is this really the full picture?
According to new research conducted by the Education Policy Institute and The Prince’s Trust, the mental health of teenagers is being damaged by heavy social media use.
The research which utilises the data of 5,000 young people in England from the Millennium Cohort Study says that heavy social media use was linked to negative wellbeing and self-esteem, regardless of a young person’s mental state, with more girls experiencing feelings of depression and hopelessness.
It was also noted that the heavy use of social media has contributed to a decline in exercise which has also affected the quality of mental health.
On the flip side, however, another study led by Dr Lee Smith from Anglia Ruskin University has found that actively consuming social media (instead of passively) can have a positive effect on mental health.
The study which involved participants between the ages of 18 and 25 examined the difference between the active and passive use of social networking. The results determined that after 20 minutes of passive scrolling the participant’s mood dropped.
Conversely, it was found that the participants who used social networking in an active way – i.e. sharing photos, commenting on pictures and engaging meaningfully with the platform – saw an uptake in their moods.
Just like anything else, mindfulness is an essential component in one’s relationship with social networking. Active consumption of social media requires purposeful intent. For example, consciously preparing a nutritious meal made of fresh ingredients and enjoying it thoughtfully versus mindlessly inhaling popcorn while watching a film, without even tasting or thinking about what it is that you are putting into your body.
So, before waging war on social media, perhaps it is time to take on some personal responsibility when it comes to its consumption. Like anything else, be engaged and invested in what it is you are doing and why you are doing it
Instead of simply bemoaning the ills of social media on young minds, perhaps we should be educating them on the concepts of mindfulness and how it applies to everything, including social network.
And, as with anything else, moderation is key. Excessively doing something is never going to be good for anyone. As such, it isn’t perhaps social media that is the enemy, but rather our own sense of discipline, discernment and judgement.