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How social media has impacted our mental health

Researcher & Writer: Nisa Jasrotia

Illustrator: Josetta So

Over 4.47 billion people worldwide use social media. To put this into perspective, the global population stands at around 8 billion as of 2022, meaning more than half the world has some form of social media! It has now become extremely easy for us to stay in touch with our loved ones and stay connected to current trends and affairs. While this is a good thing, it has also had some immensely negative effects on our mental health.

A survey of over 2000 primary and secondary school students conducted by the Hong Kong Paediatric Society (HKPS) and Hong Kong Paediatric Foundation (HKPF) discovered that 68% felt mentally exhausted and were more likely to experience negative emotions the longer they spent on social media. This means the impact is significant amongst Hong Kong’s youth. Well, now that we know social media can increase feelings of depression, anxiety and loneliness, Some of you may be wondering how and more importantly why?

The phenomenon of FOMO, which stands for “fear of missing out” has been directly linked to social media usage. It is an emotional response caused by the feeling of missing out on social events, and opportunities and believing that other people are leading more fulfilling lives. While everyone goes through some stage of FOMO in their lives, we are more likely to experience it more

often due to social media. A common example of this is when people constantly check social media to see if their friends are doing something enjoyable without them. This constant feeling can lead to anxiety and depression as people may feel left out or feel like they aren’t leading as rewarding lives as others. Ultimately, the anxious and depressive feelings can lead to physical health issues such as muscle tension, headaches and nausea as the mind is related to the gut.

Another big factor relating social media usage to mental health is the topic of body image. With significant advances in digital technology, it is so hard to tell between what’s real and what has been heavily edited. Nowadays, an increasing number of teenagers scroll through social media with a distorted sense of reality. According to a 2015 study, female college students who spent more time on Facebook had a more negative body image. This is due to people constantly comparing their bodies to artificial, edited images of the “ideal body types”. According to Neha Chaudhary, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, when people aren’t able to meet these expectations it can lead them to be dissatisfied with their own bodies. These comparisons are detrimental and can lead to body image issues, and depression, and is one of the main causes of eating disorders.

Researchers have also found that people using social media crave constant validation. People may post on social media and then wonder “Did I receive the same number of likes as someone else?” Or “Why did this person like my post while the other person didn't?” According to Dr Lisa Coyne, people find themselves asking these questions as they are looking for acceptance in the

online community, as they may not have many meaningful connections in real life. This alludes that people use their social media likes to determine their self-worth as they want to feel a sense of belonging. Research has found that around 22% of teenagers said they felt horrible about themselves if no one "liked" the pictures they posted. While wanting to be accepted is innate human nature it is important to identify when it becomes problematic, as this pattern of thinking can lead to depression and anxiety.

While social media is a fun place to be, we need to be careful and be able to identify when it is taking a toll on our mental health. It is important to remember that a lot of the pictures we see aren’t real and are heavily edited, making it unfair to compare ourselves to them. It is also vital to recognise that people only post some aspects of their lives, so what you see and perceive on social media may not always be true. If you feel like social media is really taking a toll on your mental health then seeing a counsellor or professional may be a good option and can help. Taking breaks from social media is also key as it gives us a chance to reflect and focus more on other important and meaningful things.


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