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Biological, psychological and social complexities in childhood development
Biological, psychological and social complexities in childhood development

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4 Mental health and social media

In this section, you will be learning about mental health in terms of how social media can have an impact. You learned about some of the risk factors for mental illness in the previous section, as well as the fact that many mental health conditions can be established at a young age.

In some ways, social media is a positive experience – young people can connect with each other, as well as being able to post their own updates and see their favourite celebrities. However, for some adolescents, social media can do more damage than good, by lowering self-esteem. It can lead to insecurities about one’s own body image, including over-exercising and restricting food intake in order to meet standards found on modern-day social media. In the year 2021, 7 in 10 women and girls thought that media and advertising in general set an unrealistic beauty standard, and 6 in 10 women believed that social media pressures people to look a certain way (Dove self esteem project, 2017). Therefore, we have to consider what we can do to improve young people’s self-esteem, and look closely at how we can improve our mental well-being.

Activity 11 Social media: its positives and negatives

Timing: Allow 30 minutes

This activity is in two parts.

Part A

Put yourself in the headspace of an adolescent who is navigating their way around the world of mental health and social media, then answer the following questions by filling in the blanks as a way to better understand mental health in young people, as well as the sorts of things they experience.

When feeling low in mood, we may feel i_ _l_ _ _ _ from others.

Answer

When feeling low in mood, we may feel isolated from others.

D_ _ _ _s_ _ _ _ is a condition many can experience, leaving them feeling constantly in a low mood.

Answer

Depression is a condition many can experience, leaving them feeling constantly in a low mood.

If we worry about how we look/are, we could be low in c_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _e.

Answer

If we worry about how we look/are, we could be low in confidence.

We may have t_ _ _ _ p_ if we need to recover from mental illness. It involved speaking to someone about how you feel.

Answer

We may have therapy if we need to recover from mental illness. It involves speaking to someone about how you feel.

M_ _ _f_ _ _ _ _ _ is something we can do/follow, to feel positive and have a good frame of mind.

Answer

Mindfulness is something we can do/follow, to feel positive and have a good frame of mind.

D_ _ _ culture is a topic sometimes promoted on social media with tablets and ways to eat, but it can be dangerous to our bodies.

Answer

Diet culture is a topic sometimes promoted on social media with tablets and ways to eat, but it can be dangerous to our bodies.

We may feel _ _x_ _ _s if we worry about our appearance.

Answer

We may feel anxious if we worry about our appearance

M_ d_ _ _ _ _ _ _ is a form of treatment we may have, if we need to recover from a mental illness.

Answer

Medication is a form of treatment we may have, if we need to recover from a mental illness.

I_ _ _ _g_ _ _ is a popular social media platfrom. where you can follow celebrities and see what they post.

Answer

Instagram is a popular social media platfrom where you can follow celebrities and see what they post.

Discussion

From these questions, you may have realised that this section is going to delve deeper into how an adolescent’s confidence can change in response to social media. Social media has its benefits, but it also has its negatives.

Some positives of social media are:

  • You can connect with friends and family members, even making new friends and finding others with common interests.
  • You can follow accounts about things you’re interested in.
  • You can see what your favourite celebrities are up to, learn new things and see the latest trends.
  • From a shy or socially anxious person’s perspective, it can be a great way to connect as the anxiety about interacting in person is removed.
  • It can promote things that need attention, like fundraising for an important cause or donating to a particular charity.
  • It is a way to promote change in society, creating movements that gain attention and bring change.

This is only a short list, but it shows that social media can be a positive influence. There are many more positives to be said about social media, but for young people it’s a way to get connected and see parts of the world that otherwise may not have been available. Social media was definitely a hub of activity during the Covid-19 pandemic, when many people weren’t able to see their friends in person.

However, there are negatives, most of which can be detrimental to an adolescent’s mental health (these will be further explored later in this section):

  • Becoming addicted to social media takes someone away from real life and they can lose sight of important things like schoolwork or friendships.
  • Social media can cause anxiety for young people in terms of missing out. If someone posts what they’re doing, a young person may feel upset or anxious if they’ve not been invited along.
  • Being in front of a screen all day can be damaging to your eyesight, as well as affecting your sleep patterns (if used at night).
  • Social media can sometimes promote unhealthy behaviour for young people, including diet culture. Young people’s bodies are still developing and diet cultures can have a negative impact on their physical and mental development.
  • Cyber bullying, or online hate, can drive a young person into severe anxiety or depression.
  • Privacy can become a problem, with hackers sometimes being able to access personal information.

Part B

Read through the following 18-year-old’s opinion about social media, and what it means to them.

On the one hand, I’ve made a lot of really good friends on social media over the years. The internet makes it so much easier to find people with the same interests as you, no matter how niche they are. I’ve met people from all over the world who I can talk to about things that I probably couldn’t talk about in real life.

I think social media is also really good for raising awareness of things, and it introduces people to viewpoints that they might not have considered before. There are problems; sometimes social media can be a kind of constant stream of bad news, and I think for some people that could be really bad for their mental health. I can see the constant overload of information being very detrimental to some people, especially young people. Grooming is more common online, people are exposed to violence and graphic images at a young age, but thankfully I think a lot more people are aware of these problems nowadays, and if you know about them, you can take steps to avoid them.

Now create a mind map of the pros and cons mentioned, as well as doing some of your own research on the topic. For example, the #StatusofMind report [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] published by the Royal Society for Public Health in 2017 gives a deeper insight into the positives and negatives of social media.

The following video from Psych Hub also shows the perspective of young people, their relationship with social media and how it affected them.

Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Discussion

While there are some definite positives to social media, it should be made clear that it can have a heavy impact on mental health. Kelly et al. (2018) found that greater social media use can be related to online harassment, poor sleep, low self-esteem and poor body image; this can lead to higher depressive symptom scores. Research has shown that 91 per cent of young people (aged 12–15 years) today have a smartphone and 87 per cent have a social media profile (Ofcom, 2021). It is becoming increasingly apparent that more young people are being exposed to the dangers of social media and the impacts it can have on our mental health.