In recent years, interest has risen in dealing with mental health issues by unconventional means, as traditional treatment is viewed by many to be too time intensive or expensive. There has been an especially stronger association between depression and use of social media since the COVID pandemic, as the lockdown created a mass shut-in population who chose to use the medium more and more as a release for those suffering from lack of engagement.
Accordingly, the increased use of social media at this time is also associated with other negative factors, such as depression or low self-esteem, which is why some people feel pressured to buy Twitter followers or other social media signals to build their ego. Research suggests that this relationship is both correlational and causal in nature. The fact that this relationship is correlational means that people who are more depressed, for example, tend to use social media sites more, while the fact that this relationship is causal means that the use of social media sites increases the severity of mental health problems per se (although the nature of the causal relationship is more difficult to establish).
Moreover, research on the dangers of social media shows that its use is associated with various other issues. According to licensed therapist and TikToker Jini Gintoli, “the lines between social media and “real life” aren’t always as clear as we pretend they are. Social media can play a genuine role in our journeys toward better mental health, but it can’t replace the type of individualized treatment you’d get from a therapist.” Noting that the platforms are now a constant fact of modern life, she suggests users can avail themselves of it to research where more formal treatment resources can be obtained.
But the question remains, even if the web is no replacement for professional guidance, can dialogue on a social platform, or even having a healthy looking social profile with lots of views and likes, provide some help or relief in dealing with the depressed, or a low self-image? Digital marketer Bailey Parnell of Ryerson University believes it can, by suggesting the online interaction can serve as an interim support to give a person positive feedback. But she cautions against negative impacts that certain practices, such as making “selfies,” that may come with social networks:
“We are letting others attribute value to us. You know someone or are someone that has taken down a photo because it didn’t take as many likes as you thought it would. This is changing our sense of identity. We are tying up our self-worth of what others think about us and then we are quantifying it for everyone to see. And we are obsessed. We have to get that selfie just right, and we will take 300 photos to make sure. Then we will wait for the perfect time to post. We are so obsessed, we have biological responses when we can’t participate.”
Eventually, users must distinguish between the informal help that social media can provide, and the limitations of the medium that may intensify depression. So it is important to note that while there is ample evidence to suggest that social media use is associated with a variety of problems, this does not necessarily mean that social media use leads to negative outcomes in every situation. This is evident in research on the subject which suggests that social media use does not always have a negative impact on people’s mental health, as well as in research which suggests that in some cases the use of social media immersion can even be beneficial.