While working closely with teenagers over the past years, it has become evident that a major topic of concern has become social media use. Triggered by their engagement on social media, teenagers and young adults often bring up the feelings of:
In many cases, the following factors play into these feelings:
- Seeing others have fun on social media without them
- Feeling worried about something they have posted
- Feeling self-conscious about their bodies
- Being cyberbullied
The topic of social media has been widely discussed in the world; however, the focus of the discussion has always been on the advantages of using social media to connect with others. Only until recently has the conversation switched to a focus on its negative effects on mental health.
What is Social Media Addiction?
Conversations surrounding social media and digital addiction, especially in the mental health field, are necessary as teens and young adults have become attached to social media in unhealthy ways that mirror a social media addiction.
A social media addiction is characterized by a person who is overly concerned about social media, has an uncontrollable urge to use social media, and devotes a significant amount of time and effort to using social media in ways that impairs important areas of their life.3
What are the Detrimental Effects of Social Media Addiction?
In 2020, it was reported that over 223 million Americans (70%) were using social media12. Research has shown a direct link between social media use and mental health disorders (anxiety, depression, eating disorders, etc).2, 10, 14 Of the social media outlets (Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter), Instagram has shown to have the most detrimental effects on people’s well-being followed by Snapchat.11 Research shows that social media use becomes detrimental to mental health the more that it is being used. For example, people who spend 5 hours on social media a day are 2.8 times more likely to become depressed within 6 months than a person who uses social media less than 2 hours per day.9
Research has also shown that more time spent on social media has a detrimental effect on:
- Body image concerns
- Negative mood. 2, 6, 14
In addition to time spent on social media, it appears people who use 7 out of 11 platforms are more likely to display higher levels of depressive symptoms than people who use only 0-2 platforms.10
Social Media Addiction and Depression
The way a person engages with a social media app can also have a negative impact on a person’s mental health. Interestingly, symptoms of depression are more significant among users who use social media in a passive way (such as viewing other people’s posts) versus an active way (such as posting a picture).7 This can be due to the negative thoughts and feelings associated with looking at and comparing themselves to celebrities, people in fitness, classmates/friends, and higher socioeconomic users.2 Though depressive symptoms are higher in those who use social media in a passive way, it is also present in individuals who manage their profiles and images on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, etc8.
Social Media Addiction and Anxiety
Anxiety has a significant role in social media use and can be exacerbated through interactions. It appears that more often socially anxious individuals will use social media more frequently to regulate their social fears and compensate for lack of social support experienced in the real world.15 For example, teens who experience a fear of loss with their friends will go on social media often to make sure they are responding to and checking all of their friends’ messages regularly.5 However, excessive time spent on social media takes away time from forming important relationships in person, achieving personal goals, and having self-care moments of reflection.9 Some users may seek support groups, which may actually be more detrimental than supportive. For example, someone seeking an eating disorder support group may encounter a pro-eating disorder support group and engage in that community. While individuals seek communities to combat loneliness and social isolation, they may find communities that can be detrimental to their recovery from an eating disorder.12
The Link Between Social Media Addiction, Body-Image Issues, and Eating Disorders
Multiple studies have also shown social media use to cause negative body-image, specifically with using Instagram. For example, young women who follow Instagram accounts that are appearance-focused or fitness-inspired often have an increase of negative feelings towards their body (thin-ideal internalization, body surveillance, drive for thinness, self-objectivation and body image concerns).1, 2 Research shows that individuals post images online that present themselves to appear thinner and more attractive, which leads to unrealistic expectations for their own appearance.12 Due to the ability to like and comment on pictures on social media, people who desire and need validation/praise are more likely to use social media as a way to gain that validation. Teens, especially, will not only alter their appearance for gratification but engage in risky social media challenges and negative behaviors to feel more inclusive.4
From clinical experience, we have noticed that clients tend to fall into a cycle with their Instagram use and experience of heightened anxiety. For example, they will see pictures of others on social media, compare themselves to the pictures, experience negative self-thoughts/decrease in self-esteem, edit/alter their own pictures, and post altered pictures to receive validation and gratification. However, the gratification they receive is momentary and typically diminishes when the client sees another picture or post from someone they admire. This can lead them to fall into the cycle of feeling bad about themselves again.
Treatment for Social Media Addiction in Manhattan, New York City
At Fifth Avenue Psychiatry, our doctors work with teens and adults who experience many different types of addiction problems (e.g., alcohol, opioid, marijuana, gaming, social media). A new area of focus in the mental health field is social media addiction treatment for teens and young adults. At our practice, we look at the underlying causes and triggers of their use (e.g., social anxiety, body consciousness, depression, need for validation) and help them find other outlets to meet their needs in a healthier way.
- Cohen, R., Newton-John, T, & Slater, A. (2017). The relationship between Facebook and Instagram appearance-focused activities and body image concerns in young women. Body Image, 23, 183–187. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2017.10.002
- Fardouly, J., Willburger, B., & Vartanian, L. (2018). Instagram use and young women’s body image concerns and self-objectification: Testing meditational pathways. New Media & Society, 20, 1380–1395. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1461444817694499
- Hilliard, J. (2021, August 30). Social Media Addiction. Addiction Center. https://www.addictioncenter.com/drugs/social-media-addiction/
- Hurley, K. (2020, November 16). Social media and teens: how does social media affect teenagers’ mental health. Psycom. https://www.psycom.net/social-media-teen-mental-health
- Karim, F., Oyewande, A. A., Abdalla, L. F., Chaudhry Ehsanullah, R., & Khan, S. (2020). Social Media Use and Its Connection to Mental Health: A Systematic Review. Cureus, 12(6), e8627. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.8627
- Keyte, R., Mullis, L., Egan, H. Hussain, M., Cook, A., & Mantzios, M. (2021). Self-compassion and instagram use is explained by the relation to anxiety, depression, and stress. Journal of technology in behavioral science, 6, 436-441. https://doi.org/10.1007/s41347-020-00186-z
- Odgers, C.L., & Jensen, M.R. (2020). Annual Research Review: Adolescent mental health in the digital age: facts, fears, and future directions. Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, and allied disciplines, 61 (3), 336-348. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.13190
- O’Reilly, M., Dogra, N., Hughes, J., Reilly, P., George, R., & Whiteman, N. (2019). Potential of social media in promoting mental health in adolescents. Health promotion international, 34(5), 981–991. https://doi.org/10.1093/heapro/day056
- Primack, B., Shensa, A., Sidani, J., Escobar-Viera, C., & Fine, M. (2020). Temporal associations between social media use and depression. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 60(2), 179-188. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2020.09.014.
- Primack, B. A., Shensa, A., Sidani, J. E., Whaite, E. O., Lin, L. Y., Rosen, D., Colditz, J. B., Radovic, A., & Miller, E. (2017). Social Media Use and Perceived Social Isolation Among Young Adults in the U.S. American journal of preventive medicine, 53(1), 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2017.01.010
- Royal Society for Public Health. (2017, May). Status of mind: social media and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. RSPH. https://www.rsph.org.uk/our-work/campaigns/status-of-mind.html
- Sidani, J. E., Shensa, A., Hoffman, B., Hanmer, J., & Primack, B. A. (2016). The Association between Social Media Use and Eating Concerns among US Young Adults. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 116(9), 1465–1472. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2016.03.021
- Statista Research Department. (2021, June 15). Social media usage in the United States – Statistics & Facts. https://www.statista.com/topics/3196/social-media-usage-in-the-united-states/
- Vannucci, A., Flannery, K. M., & Ohannessian, C. M. (2017). Social media use and anxiety in emerging adults. Journal of affective disorders, 207, 163–166. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2016.08.040
- Weidman, A. C., Fernandez, K. C., Levinson, C. A., Augustine, A. A., Larsen, R. J., & Rodebaugh, T. L. (2012). Compensatory internet use among individuals higher in social anxiety and its implications for well-being. Personality and individual differences, 53(3), 191–195. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2012.03.003