A person using social media

The discussion about social media platforms and their impact on users’ mental health is ongoing because the platforms which are created to connect people often do the opposite and create mental health issues for their users.

Dr William Van Gordon, Associate Professor of Contemplative Psychology at the University of Derby, explained that social media can be a useful and life-enriching tool, but that understanding how to use them is the most important.

“If we are not skilful in how we engage with social media apps, then rather than use them, they start to use us,” said Dr Van Gordon.

Dr Yasuhiro Kotera, Academic Lead in Counselling, Psychotherapy and Psychology, University of Derby, said that social media platforms were especially useful during the Covid-19 pandemic, as they helped people connect with others.

AUDIO: Neveththa Velmurugan, a Nottingham Trent University student, shares her experience of social media platforms and their impact on her mental health

Connecting people is one of the main goals of social media platforms. Regardless of the positive message these platforms are trying to send, Dr Kotera said that a “review work about social media on mental health, focusing on adolescents, noted that about three-quarters of papers highlighted social media’s negative influences.”

This information shows that the majority of discussions on social media and mental health showcase the negative sides of the platforms.

The negative sides of social media platforms range from anxiety and depression to a “social media addiction”, which can cause long term health problems. Dr Van Gordon explained how this addiction can cause relationship problems and disengage the person from the life that is happening offline.

“Common negative mental health outcomes include depression, anxiety, and alcohol use. Those negative mental health studies also reported that, ironically, use of social media was associated with loneliness and fear of missing-out – outcomes that sound opposite of ‘social’.” said Dr Kotera.

“If you don’t enjoy it, you don’t have to use it, and can always leave it”

Dr Yasuhiro Kotera, Academic Lead in Counselling, Psychotherapy and Psychology, University of Derby

Most active users on the social media platforms are young people, explained Dr Kotera. Because of that, the effect social media platforms have on their mental health is very largely talked about.

The social comparison, and the “coolness” factor, is particularly seen among adolescents, said Dr Kotera. This social comparison often comes from one user seeing the posts on another user with a seemingly “cooler” lifestyle. Despite that, the negative effects are not limited to the younger generations.

Even though the negative sides of social media platforms are often discussed, both Dr Van Gordon and Dr Kotera said that the skilful use of social media can have positive impact on mental health.

AUDIO: Pigeon Butterworth, an NTU student and a member of the listening service TrentChat, shares thoughts on the positive changes made on social media platforms and the changes still needed

Dr Van Gordon suggested that taking regular breaks from social media throughout the day can help users prioritise their mental health. Such technological detoxes can be achieved more easily if an entire household decides to participate.

Dr Kotera said that good education is needed, across all ages, in order to have a positive impact from social media platforms. He said that withdrawing from the platforms is always an option, one which people who are struggling should consider.

“If you don’t enjoy it, you don’t have to use it, and can always leave it,” said Dr Kotera.

May is mental health awareness month. There are many services offering support and help to those struggling, from Samaritans to TrentChat and NTU Mental Health support services, for NTU students.