How Social Media Affects Youth Mental Health

Maya talks to us about social media, its impact on the mental health of the next generation and what we can do to practice positive social media habits.

Feeling the Social Media Pressure

Pressure that comes from social media is an overarching challenge for teenagers in the modern age. It has become habit to use these platforms from first thing in the morning to just before bed every night. Social media can affect the youth in many different ways – including both positively and negatively. Whist it is good for spreading awareness of important issues and for keeping up to date with friends, it can also be quite dangerous for the youth, lowering self-esteem and confidence through comparing, causing anxiety, depression and even eating disorders. But I’m here to just remind you that it’s important to keep perspective of the reality of things – enjoy and embrace the happy things in your own life and remember to appreciate how far you’ve come and how worthy and strong a person you are.

The Impact of Influencers

The impact of influencers on young people’s mental health is often detrimental. Nowadays social media influencers have more influence than traditional celebrities. As a young girl especially, seeing people who go out to fancy places to eat, own designer products, going on holiday, getting surgery to achieve their perfect look has a significant impact. Even as a young male, seeing ‘perfect gym’ bodies and stigmas surrounding such has a significant impact on the youth. People often tend to compare their lives to these people who appear to be living glamorous lives. But we must always remember that these people are just posting one side of their life, their followers rarely ever see the bad bits of their lives, they only see what they are shown and what the influencers choose them to see. Everyone is human at the end of the day, everyone has their ups and down so comparing oneself to another, physically, mentally or even materially (especially with this new wave of influencers) is a losing game.

This can also link to mental health and food disorders. A portrayal of living a ‘balanced’ and ‘healthy’ lifestyle in order to have the perfect body can lead to youngsters feeling the pressure to look or be a certain way in order to feel beautiful or have the ‘perfect body.’ In 2020-2021 especially the depiction of a ‘perfect body’ has become the idea of an hourglass figure, from influencers like Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian. This is extremely dangerous as youngsters might not realise or understand that this is often not natural as influencers fake perfect bodies and perfect lives. Of course, there is no problem with people who have the money and ability to portray these lives on social media, people are free to ultimately live how they want to and enjoy their lives! However, teenagers are often susceptible and less educated when it comes to distinguishing reality from photoshopped reality, or surgery to natural bodies. It might not even cross one’s mind, when scrolling through influencer’s feeds, that they have had surgery or that they have photoshopped their gym photo.

It is perfectly okay for these influencers to post their lives on social media. However, all I’m pointing out is that the youth are often susceptible to these ‘perfect lives’ and ‘perfect bodies’ leading to comparing oneself to another, which is a very dangerous thing to do. It is very easy to get dragged into the dark abyss which social media can very often be, this can in turn lead to things like depression, anxiety, body dysmorphia and other eating disorders.

Social Media VS Reality

We must remember to stay grounded in reality, staying grounded in being content with the people around you, grounded in self-love and grounded in yourself as a person being worthy. Your reality is not someone else’s. Your life is not to be compared with someone else’s, enjoy the life you lead and the things you do that make you happy. Your timeline does not need to keep up with other people’s timelines – get a boyfriend when you want, get a job when you want, get married when you want, have kids when you want. And do it all in your own time and not in comparison to someone else’s.

Young People & Mental Health

In the UK, 9 out of 10 teenagers use social media and there is growing concern about its impact on the mental health and well-being of young students. In a study carried out by The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health in which 12,000 teenagers were interviewed over three years, 51% of the girls and 43% of the boys used social media more than three times a day rising to 69% of boys and 75% of girls by year 11.

Year 11 students were asked about their levels of happiness, anxiety and life satisfaction. The research found that boys and girls who checked social media sites more than three times a day had poorer mental health and greater psychological stress. But interestingly in girls, the negative effects were due to disrupted sleep, cyber-bullying and to a lesser extent, lack of exercise.

Have a Social Media Cleanse

It Is sometimes hard to get out of a cycle once you’re stuck in it, we’ve all been there. Scrolling through social media multiple times a day, even though it makes you sad or depressed. It’s okay to just unfollow who you need to. Have a social media cleanse. People you don’t like or don’t get along with. You don’t need them in your life and that’s okay. You should surround yourself with people who make you feel positive, who support you, who enlighten you, who are thoughtful and kind and, most importantly, people who like you for you.

Written by Maya Tajuddin, A Level Student