Too Much of a Good Thing: The Impact of Social Media on Mental Health

We spend more time than ever before ‘plugged in’ as social media keeps us connected to those we love, messaging those far away and keeping friendships alive. However, there is also a darker side of social media and I think it is vital we highlight this too.

As a trainee counsellor I find social media really helpful, if you search the #TherapistsConnect on Twitter, there is a wonderful community of therapists and counsellors, sharing their work. A really useful learning tool. Also, there is student talk every week, where other trainee counsellors can share their thoughts, concerns and support each other on the moderator’s topic. A real peer support element, a community if you like. Again, it also provides a learning tool, as you can follow people from recovery from various different mental health and illnesses, learning more about the conditions from those actually going through it. Highlighting their voices and listening to them about what works and does not work. What they find helpful and not helpful, often discussions happen which you can not find in a textbook.

Another good point of social media is it allows us to be connected to people from all over the world. Again, a real learning opportunity, embracing different cultures and listening to what is happening across the globe through those that are actually living it. Listening and amplifying often overlooked voices.

I must admit, I adore social media, I have made friends online who know more about me then my real life friends. I have met people who are going through similar experiences and found a really supportive community. However, am I missing the in-person element fundamental to personal connection. The sitting down and sharing a coffee, instead of just sending a message. It is good to talk to a friend online and offload and talk, but ultimately, I still feel a little alone. I crave that hug, that human touch if you like.

I often also find, that I do spend too much time on these platforms, looking down at my phone I am not looking up, not taking in the beauty of the present moment. Walking around the local city, my eyes down ‘plugged in’ and not noticing the birds in the trees, the swans in the river or perhaps appreciating the crisp air. When I am with others too, I do find my phone constantly going off, people messaging, so my focus is not one hundred percent with the person I am currently with, which to be honest, is rude of me. I am aware of this so I have started to mute my phone when I am with others, but I find myself feeling anxious at how many messages and notifications I will return to. So therefore, again, taking me away from the present moment. 2617…… That is how many times a day the average person touches their phone. Shocking when you think about it really.

I also have a bit of a wobble when it comes to seeing other people’s posts, I know deep down we only see part of someone’s story, the highlights if you like. Yet we still get drawn in, perhaps start comparing yourself and your life to others, forgetting we are not seeing the bigger picture, we are not seeing the ‘messy’ bits of life too. I make sure I do include those bits, I think it is vital to show that I am indeed human, that we do have good and bad times and that is OK. Trying to make social media more real, more relatable.

I do live alongside mental illnesses, I manage them well now, but there was a time in my life where they consumed me. Social media defiantly added to my darker thoughts. It is so easy to find dangerous material, dark ‘pointers’ if you like. Encouraging unhealthy behaviours and normalising dangerous content. When you are in that dark place, it is really hard not to get drawn in, to start clicking on certain hashtags and before you know it, you fall down a rabbit hole. Then because of the way the algorithms work, your social media will suggest more pages like this, and as you like and follow and double tap, you can very easily have a whole host of unhelpful content right at the end of your fingertips.

So what is my main point here?

Social media I feel is a vital tool for connection, it has allowed me to stay connected with those I love and care about. I have developed new friendships and discovered people I would have never have had the opportunity to meet. There are so many wonderful groups and forums to become a part of and it is easy to find really supportive communities. A great learning tool and ways to advertise for free. However, the darker side of social media does exist and is very real. I speak to people on a daily basis that follows unhelpful content, that gets drawn into the comparison trap. Encourage a social media detox, start following the helpful content and advocates. Gentle reminders that filters exist and we only see peoples highlights. Shining a light on how we can become addicted to these platforms.

I do have quite a few social media breaks when I feel I am being drawn in too much. I switch off the apps and make myself take a break. Especially if discussions around news topics are a little too heavy or I notice I am becoming attune to them. I would encourage this from time to time, completely switch off so you can switch on. Tune out so you can tune in to those who are physically around you, to what is happening in your life and reality. Life live instead of living life through a screen.

We do spend more time than ever before on these platforms. But at what cost? Are we missing out on human connections and missing out on the world around us by constantly being attached to our phones? I know for myself; I have to be really strict with how much time I do spend online. I absolutely adore social media, but I also do mute my notifications when I am with others so I can give them my full attention. So I can enjoy the present moment and absorb the beautiful world in which we live in.

Contributed by Zoe Burnett,
Specialist Support Office at First Steps ED