Depression, anxiety and other mental health problems are on the rise worldwide, particularly among adolescents, and researchers point to the increasing use of social media as one possible cause for this disturbing trend.
A report published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry found that 12- to 15-year-olds who spent three or more hours daily on social media were about twice as likely to experience depression, anxiety, loneliness, aggression or anti-social behaviour as compared to adolescents who did not use social media.
Another study by the University of Michigan suggested that excessive use of Facebook may undermine well-being, while a University of Copenhagen experiment revealed that individuals who took a week-long break from Facebook, particularly those who suffered from ‘Facebook envy’, reported higher life satisfaction.
In Singapore, where social media use is high, more than three in four people use it and 70 per cent use it on their mobile devices, which is more than twice the global average of 34 per cent, according to the report ‘Digital in 2017’.
As for mental health, the second Singapore Mental Health Study found the lifetime prevalence of mental illness in Singapore had increased from 12 per cent in 2010 to 13.9 per cent in 2016. Depression is the most common mental disorder in Singapore with 1 in 7 people suffering from it in their lifetime.
How does social media affect your mental health?
According to experts, heavy use of social media can cause:
increased risk of being cyber-bullied, which has been associated with depression
unrealistic comparisons with others
decreased life satisfaction
distraction from personal values and goals
decreased time for positive experiences such as physical exercise, meditation, face-to-face connection etc, which promote mental health
Here’s what you can do to protect your mental health while using social media
Limit the time you spend on social media – research shows 30 minutes per day can enhance well-being
Delete social media apps from your phone to avoid compulsive checking
Schedule daily in-person social interactions (e.g. with friends, family, co-workers, neighbours)
Switch off your phone when you are with other people so that you are not distracted and can connect fully with them
Make time for activities that promote health and social connection, e.g. meditation, yoga, volunteering, group sport, hobby class
Develop a daily gratitude practice which research shows can protect against social comparison and envy
Keep your phone and other devices out of your bedroom and read a book instead, since screen time before bed can affect your sleep.