The Battle of Social Media vs. Mental Health

The quick growth of social media is impacting mental health in many different ways

By Paige Falk

Like many college students, 20-year-old Olivia Speen says social media impacted her mental health.

“Social media is the root of so much comparison in life,” Speen said. “It makes me feel ashamed of myself in many different aspects, like my successes, how my body looks, and where I am at in life.”

According to The American Psychological Association (APA), research shows the connection between use of social media and its undesirable outcomes that increase incidence of anxiety, stress, depression, body image concerns, and loneliness in teens and young adults.

In an unofficial Pulse poll of 37 students at UF, 78% said social media had changed their mood for the day at some point, and more than 70% said social media has impacted their mental health.

According to Statista, social media usage is one of the most popular online activities. In 2021, more than 4.26 billion people were using social media worldwide, a number projected to increase to almost six billion in 2027. Not only is social media becoming more popular, but Mental Health America confirms that mental health in the U.S. continues to get worse.

“I feel like no matter who you follow, or what you do to control what you are consuming, there is always that little voice in the back of your head telling you what you don’t have in life,” Speen said. “For me personally, it was always comparing my body to others. It influenced me so much to the point where I had gotten a severe eating disorder.”

For many “likes” and “shares” on social media are as good as, or better than, positive face-to-face interaction. As stated by the APA, the brain receives a dopamine and oxytocin rush when receiving these social rewards.

Alex Davis, instructor of communication for UF says there are pros and cons to social media.

“We can feel pressure to access social media to remain up to date with peers,” Davis said. “There is FOMO (fear of missing out) now, too.”

Dr. Megan Adams is an associate professor of communication at UF. Her research focuses on digital storytelling, specifically access to digital tools and how those impact people.

“People can get a false sense of connectedness to other people, but you don’t get the same face to face connectedness,” Adams said. “It’s not the same as getting a cup of coffee and catching up.”

Although the problem is progressing, there are still ways to take control.

Adams says to absolutely set boundaries with social media and has even created her own lists with personal boundaries and rules regarding social media.

“I knew I was using it to zone out,” Adam said. “To sort of make sure I am using it in a conscious and healthy way, I made rules like ‘don’t get on social media first thing in the morning’, or don’t use it before bed at night’.”

Davis says to give yourself breaks.

“Depending on who you are, and how likely you are to open the app, force yourself to have breaks,” Davis said. “Whether it means you delete one app for a day, a week, or a month.”

Davis states that social media is like a drug.

“It’s curated. It has an algorithm to show you what you like to see. Other platforms and versions of social media apps will always emerge,” Davis said. “Therefore, I think we have to hold ourselves accountable to keep ourselves in check with social media. We can’t rely on the platform, the phone, or someone else to hold us accountable from not getting so drawn into social media. We have to be self-aware.”

“Social media can have its benefits in many ways, however with the current day problem of mental health worsening and social media growing, it is something to be cautious of,” Speen said. “Comparison is the thief of joy, and social media is a place where it is nearly impossible to not compare yourself in some way.”