Is social media affecting mental health?

08 August 2017

Question

Is social media affecting mental health?

Answer

Chris asks mental health expert Olivia Remes...

Olivia - It absolutely does. Looking at Facebook, being on your computer right before you go to bed actually disrupts your sleep. That can increase your risk of anxiety and depression and  also being on social media a lot has been linked to narcissism, to low self esteem. Right now there are issues like cyberbullying, online harassment. Also, when you go on Facebook, everyone seems to post these rosy to create this kind of glamorised view of their life. Everything looks rosy, looks beautiful, which might not necessarily be reality.

This study that has been cited a lot in research - it was really interesting - it was showing that if you’re looking at Facebook, and if the stuff that you’re seeing makes you feel jealous, then if you’re feeling jealous that can lead to depression. But, if you’re not feeling jealous, you’re okay.

Chris - Are you saying then that your friends being happy can make you unhappy?

Olivia - Exactly. It’s not so much your friends. I suppose it’s people see it more as showing off because people seem to post status updates like oh you know, I just got this promotion, look at this wonderful meal that I’m having, this trip that I’ve been on. They're not going to tell you about the things in their life that aren’t going so well like the fights that they had with their boyfriend last week. Maybe their boss said something to them and they were crying that day.

Chris - You could sued for that Olivia if you put that on Facebook. It’s funny because we went to San Diego about 10 years ago now. We won and award so we flew down to LA to get this award, drove down the coast to San Diego, and like all good people doing journalistic things, I took my recorder along. Went to the University of California, San Diego, met James Fowler who was based there then. He just published a paper showing that if you have friends on Facebook who gain weight and get fat, then you get fat because it sort of resets the social norm. So you’re more likely to feel comfortable feeling fatter and you let yourself go a little bit. Obviously, I knew the statistician would be straight in on this one, Simon?

Simon - It’s really interesting, things like Facebook because it’s a form of observer bias. So it’s exactly this idea that you are only shown part of the picture and humans have very bad biases about trying to infer the incomplete. I don’t want to use the phrase “there are things you know, there are things you don’t know, and there are thing you don’t know you don’t know,” but that’s essentially how the world is. We’re very bad at trying to fill in the gaps and that’s true in lots of areas of our daily lives. That bias, that cognitive bias, means that when we observe, because Facebook is a data information about your world, you only see part of it and then you make an inference about how the world is. And that’s very bad statistics.

Chris - What do you think Olivia, should we stay away from these platforms? Is that what should be prescribed if you’re at risk of being a bit depressed, or having fear of missing out, or whatever people are dubbing it, you shouldn’t use it?

Olivia - That’s the answer basically. This study was done in Denmark recently. It looked at over 1,000 people and they showed that quitting Facebook for just one week, it actually led to increased life satisfaction and to more positive emotions. Also, if you want to sleep better, don’t look at social media right before you go to bed. A lot of teens and tweens, they actually wake up in the middle of the night and go on their phones to see what their friends posted online. That’s so bad for you, and when you’re that young you’re growing and developing, so you need restful sleep.

Comments

Yes social media does affect mental health. not as much as the banking system does or the Government. the government and the corrupt Banking system is the No 1 combined reason people in the Uk are having mental health disorders. it is growing at a high rate and the tories sacked all the shrinks. Bankers got £100 Billion in Bonuses though for causes the crash. Ridiculous scenario .

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