According to recent estimates from Statista, around 21 million people in South Africa are currently active users of social media platforms and channels. This represents about 42% of the country’s total population. The most popular social media platforms include Facebook, WhatsApp, and YouTube. However, social media can affect one’s mental health. Discover more about this phenomenon as Bloom Financial Services explores the effects of social media on mental health and what you can do to lead a healthy, balanced life.
Ways that social media can affect mental health
On the positive side, social media can provide a great sense of connection and community. It can actually become a source of support for those with mental health conditions and can be a way to stay informed and educated about certain topics. However, it should also be noted that while social media is very educational and entertaining, this communication platform has been found to have negative effects on a person’s mental health. Some ways it can affect mental health include:
- If you do suffer from mental health issues, like depression or low self-esteem, social media can actually increase one’s feelings of loneliness, anxiety or sadness due to the constant comparison to other people’s perfect or exciting online lives, much of which can be exaggerated or embellished. This creates unrealistic expectations.
- Social media has become a platform for intense cyberbullying and online harassment as it often affords the abuser anonymity. Examples include sending hurtful messages publicly, which is known as trolling, social exclusion, impersonation – where the abuser pretends to be someone else by creating fake accounts, commonly known as ‘catfishing,’ sharing compromising videos or photographs of a person with the intent to publicly shame or humiliate them, and even online extortion where someone threatens a person and demands money or sexually explicit images.
- Constant exposure to negative news or unconfirmed misinformative, leads to bias, like xenophobia, which can often overwhelm the user or lead to the development of a negative perception of a certain situation, thing or people.
- Spending excessive time on social media can lead to loneliness, as one neglects or reduces real-life relationships and activities. This can contribute to feelings of isolation.
- Social media can seriously disrupt quality sleep. The constant use of social media can interfere with a healthy bedtime, leading to feelings of fatigue and exhaustion during the day. There is also the problem of ‘blue light,’ which is the short wavelength emitted by electronic devices like a tablet, phone or laptop. The blue light disrupts the circadian rhythm of sleep, suppressing the production of the sleep hormone, melatonin, that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. This reduces one’s quality of sleep, making it harder to fall asleep or feel rested. Poor sleep quality can definitely affect mental health, and the long-term effects of continued sleep deprivation include depression, as well as physical ailments like obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
- Reduced productivity is linked to social media. Some users can become obsessively addicted to certain platforms, neglecting their responsibilities at school or work, which can have a negative impact on their expected deliverables.
How to avoid the negative effects of social media
The best way to avoid the negative effects of social media is by setting boundaries and practising discipline. A digital detox is recommended if you’re feeling overwhelmed by information overload. This is the process of taking a break from technology and social media in order to improve your mental health and well-being. Here are the steps you can take to do this:
- Set goals and boundaries. Decide how long you want to take a break or, alternatively, decide when you will expose yourself to social media. You could, for instance, limit social media usage during the week or only look at certain platforms in the evening, making sure to switch off at least one hour before bedtime.
- Prepare for your digital detox by letting friends and family know that you will not respond to social media during specific times.
- Unplug. Turn off your phone, laptop, and other devices. Otherwise, remove the app from your device.
- Find alternative activities: Instead of using technology, find alternative activities to do such as reading a book, going for a walk, or spending real-time with friends and family.
- Reflect and find introspection. Make a note of how you feel during your digital detox or social media downtime. You could choose to journal or make a video diary. Acknowledge your feelings. Did you feel less stressed? More productive? More connected to the people around you?
- Find the right balance: Everyone is different, so it’s important to discover and maintain the right balance for your social media usage. Don’t forget to keep monitoring your feelings and physical health.
Children and teenagers can be particularly susceptible to the harmful mental health effects of social media. As parents, we have a duty to assist and guide them in this regard. It’s important to keep in mind that monitoring your child’s social media use should be done in a way that is respectful of their privacy and autonomy. The goal is not to completely control or restrict their use, but to ensure they are using social media in a safe and responsible way.
There are several ways that parents can monitor their children’s social media use, including:
- Setting responsible boundaries. Establish clear guidelines and rules for social media use, such as the amount of time that can be spent on social media per day, which apps and websites are allowed, and what types of content are appropriate.
- Keeping the lines of communication open. Always enquire and engage with the content your child is consuming. Encourage open and honest communication at all times so that they are not using social media in secret or harbouring questions they don’t feel comfortable discussing. A child could develop a negative self-image based on unrealistic beauty standards or be exposed to unhealthy sexual perceptions based on inappropriate adult content.
- Monitoring safe activity. Use parental control software or apps to monitor your child’s social media activity, including the websites they visit and the apps they use.
- Impose restrictions. Openly discuss what platforms they may or may not use and explain why. Many social media platforms will offer account restrictions, such as age limits, that can be set up to ensure that your child is only able to access age-appropriate content.
- Educate yourself. Technology is the future so it’s unrealistic to simply deny your children access to any sort of technology in order to ‘keep them safe.’ Instead, take the time to stay informed about the different social media platforms and apps that your child is using for their mental health awareness. This will allow you to assess the potential risks associated with their use.
- Be a good role model by limiting your own social media use and displaying a balanced and healthy relationship with technology.
Mental health awareness: why it’s important
Mental health awareness is important for many reasons. It’s important to break the stigma often associated with mental health problems so that people can be more accepting and helpful to those who are experiencing issues like depression. In addition, mental health awareness in environments like the home or office can assist with education which means early detection and support. By educating people about the signs and symptoms of certain conditions, and providing information about how they can help, a better outcome can be expected for all concerned, including an inclusive and supportive environment.
Mental health awareness has led to improved access to treatment and support groups. By increasing awareness, it can help reduce barriers to treatment, which was previously difficult for certain genders, conditions or population groups. With better mental health awareness, education and understanding of these medical conditions, it can assist people in their recovery and improved quality of life. It also encourages people to promote self-care so that their mental health can be monitored and prevent conditions from becoming worse.
Apply for health insurance or medical aid with Bloom
Good mental health is essential for quality living. Social media can definitely affect one’s mental health either positively or negatively, especially in children. Keep this in mind when practising self-care like setting boundaries, doing a digital detox or keeping yourself informed of your child’s social media usage. Get affordable health insurance or medical aid by contacting our office to set up an appointment with a trained consultant.