Can Social Media be a safe space?

BCM312

Understanding the pros and cons of engaging in social media in relation to mental health

In our first tutorial for our class Emerging Issues in Media and Communication we discussed media refusal and the reason why individuals feel the need to quit social media entirely. I found this incredibly interesting as a person who regularly uses social media. Social media platforms are no longer just a space to share your life. It can also be used to find communities across the globe that you relate with in order to feel a sense of connection and the feeling that you are not alone. I couldn’t help but wonder, what would my life look like if social media did not play a major role in it? If social media disappeared tomorrow, would I be better off?

Social media has had an undeniable influence in myself as an individual. A lot of my inspiration for the way I look, dress and convey myself comes from platforms such as Instagram, TikTok and Pinterest. On these platforms you see individuals living their lives to the fullest and we don’t know if it is real or fake. This can make it a toxic environment that could potentially make you feel bad about yourself and the life that you live. On a more positive note, I also gather a lot of information from social media from individuals and groups who are speaking out on topics such as mental health and wellbeing which I would not see if I wasn’t an active participant on these platforms. So are the benefits of social media outweighing the cost of it? I have been told that social media is toxic but how toxic can it be?

TikTok, a popular social media video-based platform.

Stemming from addiction to social media, my research will focus on relying on social media for information as an emerging issue in today’s modern technological world. To explore this further I want to look at the positive and negative side to using social media within the topic of mental health. We can often use social media for a sense of validation. Modern marketing is definitely known for exploiting our insecurities for profit. We are constantly being shown content that is capitalising off our insecurities. However, we also see content that is helpful and inspiring and brings together a group of people over issues that they are interested in or relate to.

When compiling my research for this project I expected to find numerous articles exclaiming that social media had a negative affect on our mental health. However, this was not really the case. In fact, I struggled to find a legitimate study that would confirm this. An eight year longitudinal study on Computers and Human Behaviour conducted research on time spent using social media in relation their depressive symptoms across ages 13-20. They found that across the eight year study, there was nothing to suggest that spending time on social media affected mental health. They found that their depression or anxiety did not increase when the adolescent used social media more, nor did it decrease when using social media less. This study also solidified the clinical standpoint of depression as a multi-process condition with multiple factors that come into play (Coyne, S. et al. 2020). Upon reflection after reading this study, I found myself thinking about how social media has affected my own mental health. I do catch myself needing a break from time to time as reading negative comments against other people does take a toll. I agree with the study that social media is not the sole purpose for mental health issues, but it is a big factor when it comes to what we think of ourselves in comparison to what we see online.  

We also need to consider that even if there is a significant impact on mental health due to social media usage, there has been a huge reach of individuals coming together to talk about their issues in a open and public platform such as TikTok. There are positive and negative factors with this. In journal by Cambridge University called Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences, results of a conceptual model found that “People with serious mental illness report benefits from interacting with peers online from greater social connectedness, feelings of group belonging and by sharing personal stories and strategies for coping with day-to-day challenges of living with a mental illness” (Naslund, J. et al. 2016). The paper also stated that individuals through social media had the opportunity to access communities that supported their wellbeing by providing information, support and to promote treatment while also reaching a wider demographic. The negative impact of this might result in finding misleading information or being exposed to harmful comments leading to more feelings of uncertainty surrounding their health conditions.

Another study of the uses, benefits and limitations of social media for health communication found that there were six benefits for using social media:

(1) increased interactions with others,

(2) more available, shared, and tailored information,

(3) increased accessibility and widening access to health information,

(4) peer/social/emotional support,

(5) public health surveillance, and

(6) potential to influence health policy. (Moorhead, SA. et al. 2013).

They also recognised 12 limitations to using social media for wellness which included fears of confidentiality and privacy and risk of sharing unreliable and misleading information to its audience.

This project will be an interesting tool in understanding the pros and cons of using social media for resources regarding mental health. I want to understand why researches are now looking at social media as something that benefits us and what are the possible risks behind it. Because social media is such an addicting platform, how much can rely on the information that is being presented to us?

References:

Coyne, S., Rogers, A., Zurcher, J. and Stockdale, L. (2020). Does time spent using social media impact mental health?: An eight year longitudinal study. Computers in Human Behavior, [Online]. 104, 106160. Available at: https://www-sciencedirect-com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/science/article/pii/S0747563219303723 [Accessed 25 March 2021].

Moorhead, SA. Hazlett, DE. Harrison, L. Carroll, JK. Irwin A, Hoving C. (2013).
A New Dimension of Health Care: Systematic Review of the Uses, Benefits, and Limitations of Social Media for Health Communication
J Med Internet Res 2013;15(4):e85. Available at: https://www.jmir.org/2013/4/e85 [Accessed 25 March 2021].


Naslund, J. Aschbrenner, K. Marsch, L. Bartels, S. (2016). The future of mental health care: Peer-to-peer support and social media. Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences, 25(2), 113-122. Available at: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/epidemiology-and-psychiatric-sciences/article/future-of-mental-health-care-peertopeer-support-and-social-media/DC0FB362B67DF2A48D42D487ED07C783 [Accessed 25 March 2021].

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