What has social media got to do with mental health?

With the explosion of internet and increased use of smart mobile phones, the use of social media for different purposes has become the rule than exception among majority of our youth and adults. It has been documented that as of 2022, there are 4.62 billion active users of social media [1] in the globe. When it comes to Ethiopia, estimates of January 2022 made by Digital (2022) indicated that 6.35 million people use social media sites with 5.95 million being facebook users [2].
Social media is viewed as internet-based channels that allow users to opportunistically interact and selectively self-present, either synchronously or asynchronously, with both limited and extended audience base benefiting from user-produced materials and the perception of interaction with others [3]. The American Academy of Paediatrics [4] defines social media as any website-based platform that enables social interaction. In this line social media include platforms such as facebook, twitter, instagram, MySPace, telegram, TikTok etc.
Researchers these days seem to agree on the existence of possible links between social media use and mental health. Although there is global concern over the mental health impacts of use of social media, causal links between social media use and mental health are scanty [5]. Some studies have reported the negative mental health consequence of social media use [6, 5,7]. while others reported absence of any link considering the amount of time spent on social media [8, 9, 10]. Adding to this complexity, other studies [11, 12, 13] have reported positive links between social media use and mental health. Mesfin, et. al., specifically distinguished between emotional use and routine use (which is very close in meaning to use frequency or times of use) with emotional use being linked to negative mental health.
Although some mental health-effect studies claim causality, those specifically suggesting negative effects are blamed for their use of self-report techniques. In relation to this, observational data have been suggested to be used in future studies[14]. However, since social media use is not confined only to places where observation can be conducted but can also take place virtually everywhere, observational methods cannot be viable solutions. It can further be argued that as long as the researcher gathers self-report data under strict ethics, it would not be sensible for respondents to fake or report inaccurate information about themselves. I rather argue that worthy of discussion is the types of social media contents that contribute to mental health, on the one hand, and those that hamper it, on the other. This could help social media platform providers take informed and stricter measures on contents that have negative bearings on the users’ mental health.

  1. We Are Social (Last accessed on 29 Dec 2022) Available from: https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2022-global-overview-report
  2. Digital 2022: Ethiopia (Last accessed on 29 Dec 2022) available from https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2022-ethiopia
  3. Carr, C. T., & Hayes, R. A. (2015). Social Media: Defining, Developing, and Divining. Atlantic Journal of Communication, 23(1), 46–65. doi:10.1080/15456870.2015.972282
  4. Schurgin, G O’Keeffe, & Clarke-Pearson, K. (2011) Council on Communications and Media; The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families. Pediatrics, 127 (4), 800–804. 10.1542/peds.2011-005
  5. Braghieri, Luca, Levy, R., & Makarin, A- (2022). Social Media and Mental Health. American Economic Review, 112(11), 3660–3693, doi:10.1257/aer.20211218 3660
  6. Barry, C. T., Sidoti, C. L., Briggs. S. M., Reiter, S. R., & Lindsey, R. A. (2017). Adolescent social media use and mental health from adolescent and parent perspectives. Journal of Adolescence, 61, 1-11
  7. Kelly, Y., Zilanawala, A., Booker., & . (2018) Social Media Use and Adolescent Mental Health: Findings from the UK Millennium Cohort Study. EClinicalMedicine, 6, 59–68
  8. Berryman, C., Ferguson, C. J., 2 & Negy, C. (2018) Social Media Use and Mental Health among Young Adults. Psychiatr Q 89:307–314 DOI 10.1007/s11126-017-9535-6
  9. Coyne, S. M., Rogers, A. A., Zurcher, J. D., Stockdale, L., & Booth, M. (2020) Does time spent using social media impact mental health?: An eight year longitudinal study.Computers in Human Behavior, 104, 106-160
  10. Marwick, A. E. & Boyd, D. (2014): Networked privacy: how teenagers negotiate context in social media. New Media Soc., 16, 051-1067. 10.1177/1461444814543995
  11. Guinta, M. R, & John, R. M.(2018) Social media and adolescent health. Pediatr Nurs.44(4), 196-202
  12. Mesfin A. Bekalu, McCloud, R. F., & Viswanath, K. (2019) Association of Social Media Use With Social Well-Being, Positive Mental Health, and Self-Rated Health: Disentangling Routine Use From Emotional Connection to Use Health Education & Behavior, . 46(2S) 69S–80S. DOI: 10.1177/1090198119863768
  13. Nabi, R. L. Prestin, A. & So, J (2013). Facebook Friends with (Health) Benefits? Exploring Social Network Site Use and Perceptions of Social Support, Stress, and Well-Being, Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 16(10) https://doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2012.0521
  14. Nesi, J. (2020) The Impact of Social Media on Youth Mental Health: Challenges and Opportunities. N C Med J. 81(2), 116-121. doi: 10.18043/ncm.81.2.116. PMID: 32132255.

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