15th August 2019

The Effects of Social Media

Since the arrival of social media, the way we communicate has developed vastly, whilst it has brought about positive change, the negative impacts it can bring shouldn’t be overlooked.

The use of social media continues to rise across all ages, but young people in particular are more susceptible to the contrasting impacts that it can bring. Some of the troubles that come with constant use of social media platforms are issues such as addiction, becoming socially isolated, a reduction in face-to-face interaction or developing a lack of social cues.

[1]In 2017, RSPH and the Young Health Movement published a report that looked into this topic which highlighted that 91% of 16-24 year olds use the internet for social networking, and found that social media is linked closely with increased rates of anxiety, depression and poor sleep.

This report also highlighted the increase in negative thoughts and feelings amongst young people, with the below figures reflecting this:

  • Anxiety and depression have risen 70% in the past 25 years[2]
  • Instagram and Snapchat were ranked as the most negative platforms, and YouTube was ranked the most positive
  • A 2015 study found children who were heavy users were less happy with more social and emotional problems
  • 7 in 10 young people have said they’ve experienced cyber bullying
  • Young people said that 4 of the 5 most used platforms actually make their feelings of anxiety worse

Because of the negative factors to social networking, the RSPH have introduced Scroll Free September to encourage people to take 30 days to either reduce or cut out social media next month. Whilst the idea might seem drastic to some, the ability to step back and reflect upon your own social media use and the negative impacts it might be having on your life can leave you feeling more connected, and even surprised at how reliant on staying up to date with others’ lives we’ve become as a society. The chance to look at what you’ve missed in the 30 days, what you didn’t miss and what you enjoyed doing as an alternative has brought a sense of enlightenment to people such as Beth Bretherton, an RSPH Young Health Champion[3].

“Young people aren’t always equipped with shutting off their negative thoughts and technology can be quite harmful in this sense.”

To say that social media is only negative, however, doesn’t reflect the opportunities that networking platforms have created accurately. As with many things the negatives attract more scrutiny, but positives find it harder to gain the same traction. For instance, the report in 2017 highlighted that sites like YouTube create a strong community feel and saw an increase in self-expression and emotional support. The introduction of Facebook saw people connecting in a way never thought of before; the idea of being able to instantly speak to long-distant friends and family or keep up to date with their lives with one click of a button was unprecedented, and now we’ve seen it grow in leaps and bounds and allow us to create positive online communities and combat social isolation.

As with most things, the idea of everything in moderation is key to maintaining good health and wellbeing, so it’s worth taking into consideration this coming month, how much time you’re spending on social media and the impact it’s having on your life. Taking actions that will benefit you, such as taking a step back for a length of time that suits your needs could be the short relief that you didn’t know you needed.

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