Social Media and Mental Health

By Jenni Jacobsen, LSW on November 2nd, 2021

Social media use is so widespread that it’s a part of daily life for many people. We use it as a way to connect with others, share the highlights of our lives and stay updated on current events. While these positive aspects of social media are obvious, the downsides of social media are often less clear. 

At a Glance

  • Several studies have found a link between social media and mental health problems like depression and anxiety, especially when social media use is compulsive.
  • Social media may come with some benefits, such as providing social connection and sources of social support. 
  • Some problems with social media include social comparison, isolation, cyberbullying and social media addiction. 

How Does Social Media Affect Mental Health?

Perhaps you associate social media with social connection, which has positive implications for mental health. However, the effects of social media on mental health are not always beneficial. Spending too much time on social media can lead people to miss out on face-to-face interactions, and comparing yourself to others’ life highlights on social media can actually make you feel worse about your own life.

It’s no surprise, then, that a recent study found that compulsive social media use led to what researchers call “social media fatigue,” which was in turn linked to anxiety and depression. The study results also showed that fear of missing out, sometimes referred to as FOMO, was linked to compulsive social media use, suggesting that social media can become somewhat of an obsession. 

A second study of U.S. adults found that those who used multiple social media platforms were at increased risk of depression and anxiety when compared to those who used zero to two social media platforms. This study provides additional evidence that excessive social media use can be harmful to mental health. 

The Pros of Social Media 

Although research shows that social media use can be linked to conditions like depression and anxiety, this doesn’t mean that social media is entirely harmful. Many people enjoy several benefits of social media platforms:

  • Communication: Social media platforms can provide a means of communicating with family and friends who live farther away. With the simple click of a button, you can stay updated with photos and offer a quick comment to stay in touch. Social media makes it easier to quickly communicate with friends and loved ones, even when you’re busy with work or other commitments.
  • Social connection: When social media is used to connect with others, it can be beneficial. A review of the research on social media suggests that social media platforms can improve well-being when they are used to make meaningful social connections. For example, if you use social media to stay connected with close friends when you cannot see each other face-to-face, this connection can help prevent you from feeling lonely or isolated. 
  • Benefits for teens: While social media is not risk-free for adolescents, studies do suggest that social media sites can have a positive role on teenage development by strengthening friendships, helping teens connect with their friends, understanding their friends’ feelings, and increasing their self-esteem. Social media sites can also provide a platform for teens to explore their identities and receive support from others. 

The Cons of Social Media

While there are some benefits associated with social media, there is also a connection between social media and anxiety and depression. If you’re wondering “Why is social media bad for mental health?”, consider some of the cons of social media usage:

  • Social comparison: Experts believe that social media’s effects can be harmful for mental health when people use social media to compare themselves to others. For example, if you follow others who are posting highlights, such as their recent engagements, work promotions or vacations, you may feel inferior, which can lead to depression.
  • Isolation: Social media can also become problematic when people spend so much time on these sites that they avoid face-to-face interactions or allow offline relationships to fall by the wayside. Over time, social media obsession can become isolating.
  • Cyberbullying: Social media platforms also provide a setting for bullying to occur, as bullies can hide behind the safety of a computer screen and bully from afar. In fact, a study in the Journal of School Violence found that social media and text messages were the most common venues for cyberbullying. 
  • Addiction: Over time, compulsive social media use can actually begin to take on the features of addiction. Recent research has shown that social media addiction is linked to mental health problems and academic concerns among college students. 

When Is Social Media Use Unhealthy?

Since there are both pros and cons associated with social media platforms, it can be difficult to determine when social media use is unhealthy. Some signs that you may have entered into an unhealthy relationship with social media include:

  • You find yourself giving up other activities in order to stay home and spend time on social media.
  • You are letting other responsibilities, such as parenting duties, work and household chores fall by the wayside because you’re spending so much time on social media platforms.
  • Friendships are beginning to suffer because of your social media use.
  • You’ve tried to cut back on social media use but find that you are unable to do so.
  • You continue to use social media, even when it has negative consequences in your life, such as worsened mental health.

Signs That Social Media Use Is Impacting Your Mental Health

When social media use begins to get out of hand, you may notice negative effects on your mental health. Some signs to watch out for include constantly comparing yourself to others, feeling as if you are isolated from friends, or feeling anxious if you are unable to access social media accounts. 

Since social media use is linked to depression, you may also notice some depressive symptoms, such as loss of interest in your usual activities, feelings of fatigue, and an irritable mood. You may also find that you feel sad most of the time, and you may have trouble concentrating. 

Tips for Modifying Your Social Media Use

If social media and mental health problems are beginning to interfere with daily functioning, it’s time to modify your social media use. The following tips can be helpful if you want to overcome some of the problems associated with social media:

  • Limit your time on social media: If you find that social media has become an obsession for you, make an effort to reduce the time you are spending on social media platforms. Try to set aside times of the day, such as first thing in the morning, during your lunch break, and in the evening after work to check social media, but log out of your social media platforms at other times of the day. You may find it helpful to set a timer and put your phone away when it goes off since it can be easy to lose track of time and waste an hour on social media when you’re scrolling through your phone.
  • Find other enjoyable activities to do: If your social media use is compulsive or rises to the level of an addiction, you may be using it to cope with boredom or loneliness. If this is the case, find other activities that you enjoy. When you’re tempted to mindlessly scroll through social media, consider going outside for a walk or jog, reading a book or magazine that you enjoy, or taking on a project around the house.
  • Stay off social media when you’re with others: Social media can result in social disconnection if you’re spending time scrolling through Facebook or Twitter when you could be engaging in face-to-face connections. Make a rule to put your phone away and enjoy the present moment when you’re out with friends or having dinner with your spouse or significant other. 

If social media use is interfering with your mental health and you could use a little extra help modifying your social media behaviors, Nobu is a mental wellness app with helpful features like a mood tracker, mindfulness training, goal-tracking, journaling and mental health lessons from experts. 

erica weiman headshot

Edited by – Erica Weiman

Erica Weiman graduated from Pace University in 2014 with a master’s in Publishing and has been writing and editing ever since. She has written and edited content across many niches, including psychology and mental health, health and wellness, food… Read more.

jenni jacobsen

Written by – Jenni Jacobsen, LSW

Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker through the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist Board. She has seven years of experience working in the social work field, working with clients with addiction-related and mental health… Read more.

dr angela phillips

Medically Reviewed by – Dr. Angela Phillips

Angela is a licensed therapist and clinical researcher, and has worked in public, private, government, and not-for-profit organizations, across clinical and research-oriented roles. Angela’s clinical and research experience has included suicide prevention, cognitive behavioral… Read more.