Photo Credit: shutterstock
Especially among young millennials, the evidence is starting to pile up suggesting a link between heavy social media use and mental depression. Among the five most popular social networks, the one that stands out the most in this regard is Instagram. That’s according to the latest research from the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) in the UK, which measured and rated the worst social networks for mental health.
Wait, what? Shouldn’t social media be making you feel better about your own life? That should be the case, but just think of all those perfectly filtered photos on Instagram that might make you think every single one of your friends is leading a remarkably charmed life full of exotic vacations, great workouts at the gym, and plenty of romantic sunset dinners. By comparison, your own life may seem pretty miserable.
How social media leads to depression
There are two main ways that social media leads to depression. It could lead to a poor body image or a lack of sleep as you spend all night thinking of the ways that your own life just doesn’t measure up. These effects are particularly felt among young millennials (age 14 to 24), who may already be fighting issues related to self-esteem and body image.
The effects can be especially magnified, suggests the RSPH, if social media also leads to behaviors such as body shaming and social media bullying. Imagine what your mindset would be if you’ve worked hard to lose a few pounds, you post a photo of yourself in a revealing summer bikini on Instagram, and people start leaving nasty comments on your photo. You might be tempted to delete the photo – or you may decide to give up Instagram entirely.
Recommendations for social networks to fight depression
In order to combat these negative effects of social media, the RSPH makes a few recommendations. One of them is for social media networks to post a pop-up warning if you’ve been using an app for too long. This would be similar to a bartender cutting you off if you’ve had too many drinks for the night.
Another recommendation is to include a warning label if a social media image has been digitally enhanced in any way. This would be similar to women’s magazines putting an end to the practice airbrushing the images of models on the cover to make them look younger and slimmer than they really are.
Instagram responds to the UK survey on mental health
Instagram, obviously, is getting a little concerned about all this bad PR. After the UK mental health study came out, representatives from Instagram said that they were taking active steps to make the social network a “safe and supportive place” for everyone. Yet, at nearly the same time, Vogue.com came out with a story, “Instagram Might Actually Be Making You Depressed.” So there’s still work to be done.
But, in all fairness, there are a number of positive features that all social networks share. One of them is the ability to provide an outlet for self-expression. Another is the ability for users to create a sense of identity. It’s just a matter of calibrating all the positive and potentially negative features of social networks so that they positively influence the mental health of our nation’s youth.