Social media use has some benefits, like allowing individuals to easily keep in touch and share what’s going on in their busy lives, even across long distances. However, research studies have identified numerous ways social media use, and particularly overuse, can be harmful. Among the many types of harm that researchers have discovered are associated with problematic social media use are anxiety and depression.
Social media usage can lead to feelings of sadness or worry. Low mood can result from making negative social comparisons with someone else’s posts, being the target of hostile comments that can constitute cyberbullying, or simply being exposed to a barrage of high-engagement content that is negative, abusive, or hateful in some way.
These negative feelings that normally arise out of social media usage are usually temporary and are not severe enough to significantly impact your life. When those feelings and emotional states linger or are severe enough to affect the social media user’s life in meaningful ways, they may constitute diagnosable mental health disorders, like clinical depression or anxiety.
Depression is more than just a brief or occasional feeling of sadness. In clinical depression, feelings of sadness, hopelessness, guilt, and irritability persist and are serious enough to affect the person’s daily life.
People suffering from clinical depression often describe feeling “empty,” tired, and experiencing changes in eating and sleeping patterns. Losing interest in the activities the person used to enjoy is a hallmark sign of depression. A person suffering from clinical depression may also experience physical symptoms, including aches, pains, cramps, headaches, and digestive issues. Some people suffering from depression experience suicidal ideation, although not every depressed person does.
Depression can suck the joy out of life, making it difficult for a person to succeed in school, work, sports, or any other activity they undertake. Even getting out of bed in the morning can seem impossible in the depths of depression.
Despite the intense impact clinical depression can have on a person’s life, these persistent feelings don’t have to be permanent. Depression can be treated through methods like psychotherapy and pharmaceutical medications like antidepressants.
Anxiety disorders are clinically diagnosable mental health issues in which feelings of fear and worry are so persistent and excessive that they can stop a person from fully living their life.
There are numerous types of anxiety disorders, and the fears (and the events or exposures that trigger them) can be generalized in nature or highly specific.
The worries that preoccupy a person with generalized anxiety disorder may be “normal” aspects of life to worry about, like money or health. What makes these fears reach a level of clinical diagnosis is that they are excessive and affect the person on a daily basis for six months or longer.
A person who suffers from a different type of anxiety disorder, a phobia, is intensely afraid of an event or exposure that is (or may be) much more specific.
Severe anxiety can make it difficult to live your life. A person who is intensely afraid of accidents, crime, or social situations may find it difficult to even leave their home, much less go about the activities that would give them an enjoyable quality of life.
Like depression, anxiety disorders are treatable. Through methods like psychotherapy, especially cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and medications like anti-anxiety medicines and antidepressants, a person who suffers from clinical anxiety can get their life back.
Clinical depression or anxiety can turn your life upside down, so that you don’t even feel like yourself anymore. Feelings of worthlessness that tend to accompany depression can wreak havoc on your self-esteem. Feelings of anxiety that pertain to your perception of your physical attractiveness can affect your body image and put you on the path to disordered eating.
Clinical depression and anxiety are some of the conditions most closely related to self-harm behaviors and suicidal ideation and attempts.
In an emergency situation, like suspected self-harm or suicidal ideation, please seek immediate assistance by calling 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Anxiety and depression can also go hand in hand with addiction. Young people are particularly susceptible to developing social media addiction, in which the person continues to use social media excessively or in problematic ways even after doing so has impacted their life in negative ways.
Parents can sometimes pinpoint the start of their child’s symptoms of anxiety or depression to the time when they first began to display excessive or problematic social media use behaviors. However, it’s more than anecdotal observations that support the association between social media exposure and mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.
Researchers in this area have conducted many studies that have linked social media use to new or worsening depression, anxiety, body image or self-esteem issues, eating disorders, self-harm behaviors, and suicidal ideation.
It it critical that parents and families learn how to identify suicide risk that can arise from social media use.
An article published in the Journal of Adult Development found that social comparisons in general (online and offline) can result in “destructive emotions and behaviors” such as “envy, guilt, regret, and defensiveness.” There’s no denying that social media posts provide unique opportunities to make these potentially troubling social comparisons by giving users an at-their-fingertips glimpse into others’ lives—often, highly filtered and embellished versions of their lives.
Cyberbullying and cyberstalking, in particular, can cause the victim of these behaviors significant distress. Even in the absence of persistent cyberbullying behaviors, it’s hardly surprising that making negative social comparisons, feeling inundated with content that is often hateful or abusive, and feeling a constant compulsion to check social media to the detriment of life in the real world can lead people to feel sad, isolated, and lonely.
In a 2018 article published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, researchers undertook experiments to explore the “potential causal role” social media plays in poorer general well-being. They found that college students who reduced their social media usage to just 30 minutes total per day (across platforms) displayed “significant reductions in loneliness and depression.” A study published in The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry in 2019 concluded that “increases in time spent using social media, television, and computers are associated with increases in anxiety.”
How individuals use social media, including the frequency and intensity of use and how much time they spend using these sites, may affect whether social media usage could potentially pose a risk of depression or anxiety. A study published in the American Journal of Health Behavior in 2018 found that two specific patterns of social media usage—characterized by time-consuming high-frequency usage across multiple platforms and by problematic social media usage behaviors—“are associated with the most risk of elevated symptom levels of depression and anxiety.”
It’s important to note that depression and anxiety, along with other mental health issues, are complex matters. Factors like physiology and brain chemistry, traumatic experiences, losses, and other life stressors can all play a role in the development of depression or anxiety. However, research studies have produced sufficient evidence to suggest that there is at least a correlation between problematic social media exposure and depression and anxiety.
If you notice worrying changes in your child’s mood or behavior, it’s important to take action. Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues can be very dangerous, and your child can’t just “snap out of” these feelings. Professional help may be required to treat these conditions so that your child can get their life back.
If a parent suspects that their child may be in immediate danger, they should call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) right away.
Your child’s life is an instance in which it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
In a non-emergency situation, you should talk to your child about their feelings and the concerning changes you have noticed.
Try to avoid making any comments or judgments that may seem to minimize, stigmatize, or invalidate your child’s feelings, and be open to listening to what they have to say.
Encourage your child to accept professional help, and help them make an appointment with a counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist, or other mental health professional.
This is a difficult conversation for everyone, so don’t be afraid to seek appropriate professional support first (as you plan for the discussion) or during the process of working toward better mental health for your child. Talking to your child’s pediatrician, for example, can give you some insight into how to approach this conversation and how to go about getting the help your child needs.
Once your child is on the path to regaining their well-being, parents should consider the possibility of taking legal action to hold social media companies accountable for the harm they cause.
Although mental health issues like anxiety and depression are treatable, they can’t be “cured.” Recovery is likely to take time and possibly some trial and error as your child’s mental health professionals work to figure out the most effective therapies.
Any financial compensation that arises out of this claim can remove the considerable financial burden a family faces when treating a mental health condition—and families don’t have to worry that pursuing such a lawsuit will add to their financial burden, since social media harm attorneys represent clients on a no-win, no-fee basis.
The compassionate, highly professional legal team at Console & Associates, P.C. is here to answer your questions and advise you of your legal rights at no cost. If you decide to move forward with a social media lawsuit claim, our experienced attorneys offer no-win, no-fee legal representation. For a confidential consultation and free case review, call (866) 778-5500.