Social media sick

Rates of suicide, depression and eating disorders have increased over the past decade in Canada and many experts are pointing to social media as a contributing factor.

Photo by Nathan Chow
Photo by Nathan Chow

Several studies on the impact of social media on mental health have all found the same thing: the higher the use of social media, the higher the rate of depression and anxiety.

“People need to keep in mind that often on things like Facebook there’s a tendency for people to post all their highlights,” says Melissa Bosomworth, lead coach at the Durham College Coaching and Support Centre. “And they need to remember that nobody has a life filled with highlights.”

A University of Pittsburgh study of almost 1,800 people found social media use is a significantly associated with increased depression.

Staying off social media may improve your life, according to The Happiness Institute in Denmark. A study by the organization found reported that, “social media is a non-stop great news channel. A constant flow of edited lives which distorts our perception of reality.”

Researchers followed the social media habits of 1,095 people. Almost all of them, 94 per cent, visited Facebook daily. The group were divided into a control group, that continued regular Facebook use, and a treatment group that was told not to use it for a week.

After the week was finished, participants were asked to report and evaluate their ‘life satisfaction’ on a scale of one to ten.

The control group started at 7.67 and finished at 7.56, a negligible variation according to researchers. The treatment group started at 7.75 and finished at 8.12, a significant change. The treatment group had a 4.8 per cent increase in life satisfaction.

“People might be getting a false view of just how happy other people are,” says David Clarke, coordinator, Durham Mental Health Services. “If people are comparing themselves to these artificially created personas, then they may end up looking at their own life and wondering what’s wrong with me.”

Clarke says it is a positive thing to have mental health issues destigmatized but social media may not be the right place to find help. He says this leads to a scenario of ‘affiliative bonding.’

“It’s not a coincidence who we end up spending our time with,” he says. “People who are there are like drowning people reaching on to other drowning people in order to life themselves up. Everyone in there is kind of hopeless. Trying to find hope in a group of people who all lost hope may be a difficult task.”

In Sweden, researchers looked at a thousand Swedish Facebook users. The study found low income and low educated groups report feeling unhappy and less content with their lives more than the general population.

Body image can also be affected by social media. “It really seems like the wild west beyond policing,” says Clarke. “None of their peers (look like) like the bodies portrayed in those sites. People can be happy in a whole variety of body types and body sizes.”

Bosomworth says once something catches on and begins trending, pressure can build up. She says it could be any group that starts a trend on social media. Which demographic it’s marketed to is a different story.

The increasing rates of mental health issues have physicians and support workers concerned and social media is not going away any time soon.

The Durham College Coaching Centre is here to support students’ wellness and personal growth. Bosomworth says they will assist students are having feelings of sadness, loneliness and any of the potential negative effects of social media.