Social Media and the Impact on Our Well-Being

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Last week you may have read about Essena O’Neill, the Instagram famous Australian teenager ‘coming clean’ about the ‘perfect life’ she portrayed on social media. O’Neill had more than 600,000 Instagram followers and was making $2000AUS a post on her social media site. Until recently, it seemed that O’Neill had the perfect life, perfect hair, body and wardrobe and was envied by thousands. However, last week she deleted over 2000 posts, keeping only a few and re-captioning them with how much time and effort went into making the photos taken looked as candid and as natural as possible. She discusses her battle with her weight, keeping fit and how although it seemed like she had the perfect life, she was actually very lonely. This isn’t the only backlash social media has faced in the past few months, with reports also coming to light last week that Fear of Missing Out, or FOMO, is affecting teenager’s mental health. FOMO is generated by high levels of social media use, and a report in Australia found that one in two teenagers feel they are “missing out” on the seemingly perfect lives others portray on social media, such as O’Neill. They also found that teens worry about their friends having fun without them, and feel anxious if they did not know what their friends were doing. According to a survey, FOMO does not stop once people enter adulthood, with the survey noting that those aged 18-35 reported the highest feelings of being left out amongst all adults.

an image from O’Neills Instagram account, which she has now deleted.

It has also been reported that excessive use of social media can greatly effect teens mental health. According to a report from the Office for National Statistics, teenagers who spend three hours or more a day on social media are more than twice as likely to suffer poor mental health. Experts claim that such children risk delays in their emotional and social development because they spend so much time in the virtual world. Girls are more likely than boys to spend excessive amounts of time on social sites, according to the report. The report also said that social media “may provide an additional way to connect with others and form relationships”, however, they are also “a source of social comparison, cyber bullying and isolation”. The Telegraph reports that teenagers from leading independent schools are turning to counselling to cope with the pressures of appearing popular on social media. Julie Lynn Evans, a child and adolescent psychotherapist has said that “photos on social media encourage them to think that the grass is always greener for other people. They are comparing their life with images that lack reality”. This is further backed up by O’Neill’s confessions that her life wasn’t half as great as she made it out to be.

illustration by Jon Reinfurt

Researchers in Denmark carried out a study that observed the impact of Facebook on people’s wellbeing. They split 1,095 daily Facebook users into two groups, half given access to the site as normal, and the remainder were told to quit. After a week, it was discovered that those who had the break from Facebook felt 55% less stressed. Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen said “We look at a lot of data on happiness and one of the things that often comes up is that comparing ourselves to our peers can increase dissatisfaction…Facebook is a constant bombardment of every else’s great news…this makes the Facebook world, where everyone’s showing their best side, seem even more distortedly bright by contrast”. The participants were aged between 16 and 76 and were quizzed before the experiment began on how satisfied they felt, how active their social life was, how much they compared themselves to other and how easy they found it to concentrate. Sophie Anne Dornoy, 35, deleted the smartphone app and blocked the site on her desktop to reduce temptation, she says “after a few days, I noticed my to-do list was getting done faster than normal as I spent my time more productively…I also felt a sort of calmness form not being confronted by Facebook all the time”. Those who abstained from Facebook reported higher levels of life satisfaction, better concentration, they felt less lonely, less stressed and more sociable.”
However, the impact social media has on our wellbeing is not all bad. The University of Exeter reported that training the elderly in social media improves well-being and combats isolation. It improves their cognitive capacity, and increases a sense of self-competence. A two-year project led by the University of Exeter gave a group of vulnerable older adults a specially-designed computer, broadband connection and training in how to use them. It was reported that those who received training became more positive about computers over time, with the participants particularly enjoying connecting with friends and relatives via Skype and email. Emma Green, a Care Technologist from Somerset Care who delivered the training for the study said “As the training programme developed with my participants their confidence grew and they were keen to tell me how family members had emailed back, Skyped or ‘liked’ a comment or a picture on Facebook. Seeing the smiles on my participant’s faces when they Skyped a family member in the UK or abroad was such a special moment”.
Social media is rapidly dominating our lives, particularly with young people, and it doesn’t show any sign of slowing down. It was inevitable that it would have some impact on our well-being, and there is no doubt that there will be further studies into the phenomena that is social media and the impact it has on our mental health. However, it also cannot be denied that it does have some benefits, one of which is mentioned above. So as much as we may want to persecute Mark Zuckerberg and the other social media moguls for bringing the curse that is FOMO into our lives, we also have to remember that it’s not all bad. That is, until you see an outrageous humble-brag and a picture of a home-made smoothie and you go back to hating social media all over again.


feature image from here.

Holly Martin

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