Social media plays an essential role in many people’s lives. Apps allow individuals to communicate with friends, loved ones, and people around the world who share similar interests. Some aspects of social media affect mental health. According to Cureus, “[T]he number of social media users worldwide in 2019 is 3.484 billion, up 9% year-on-year.” Researchers found, “Social media has many positive and enjoyable benefits, but it can also lead to mental health problems.” Women are more likely to experience mental health problems related to social media. Emerge Recovery TX helps women overcome issues related to self-esteem and self-worth caused by social media use.
Brief Overview of the Digital Age
The “digital age” started in the 1970s. Every year, more people become part of the online conversation. Social media usage increases by millions of users every year. According to Frontiers in Sociology, “[N]early four billion people all over the world use platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, WeChat or TikTok.” The digital age has brought personal computers into almost every home. Phones, tablets, laptops, PCs, and smart devices connect individuals to social media in their everyday lives.
The Rise of Social Media Platforms
SixDegrees.com was the first social media website. Although the site only lasted three years, from 1997 to 2000, it created a new way for people to engage with others. Social media has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry. Social media has become the primary form of social connection for millions of people.
People who amass a significant number of followers are called “influencers.” According to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, “[S]ocial media influencers significantly contribute to the poor mental health of social media users.” Engaging with toxic individuals or channels online causes significant mental health issues, including low self-esteem.
The Concept of Self-Esteem
Self-esteem is an umbrella term used to describe many aspects of self-perception. For example, someone with high self-esteem may think of themselves as confident, strong, and able. However, a person with low self-esteem may feel inadequate, ashamed, or fearful of letting others down. How people perceive themselves affects moods, thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors.
Definition and Importance of Self-Esteem
According to the Journal of the National Medical Association, “Self-esteem is a simplistic term for varied and complex mental states pertaining to how one views oneself.” Low self-esteem is a risk factor for substance use disorder (SUD) and other mental health conditions. Positive self-esteem reduces the risk of mental health issues and increases overall health.
Factors That Influence Self-Esteem
Many factors affect a person’s self-esteem, including:
- Family dynamics
- General health and wellness
- Socioeconomic status
- Religious or spiritual beliefs
- Cultural expectations
- Social stigmas
Self-esteem often fluctuates based on stress levels and how confident a person feels about their abilities. The type of media individuals consume online impacts their sense of self-worth and value.
Social Media as a Double-Edged Sword
The impact of social media is a double-edged sword. People use it to connect and educate while also providing a platform for disinformation and prejudice. Apps and social media sites often fail to eliminate the unhealthy, bigoted, and hateful voices of influencers with real-world power. Politicians and celebrities use social media to post anything they want, whether the content is accurate or not. The same apps and sites connecting families also tear families apart.
Social media is especially harmful to self-esteem if people choose to follow influencers or tags supporting unhealthy ideals. For example, women may develop eating disorders (EDs) if they follow individuals glamorizing disordered eating and share “#thinspiration” posts. Self-esteem may also be altered if people follow users who routinely belittle or use hateful language about groups or individuals.
The Positive Influence of Social Media
Despite the many downsides to social media, there are also positive influences online. Educators, medical experts, and supportive organizations use social media as a platform for positive change. Below are two ways social media improves lives.
#1. Connection and Community Building
Social connections are essential to mental and physical health. Some people may have difficulty finding a community where they feel accepted. Apps and social media sites make it easy to find and connect with others who share interests and similar life experiences. In addition, social media helps people connect with friends and family during difficult moments, reducing feelings of isolation and loneliness.
#2. Platforms for Self-Expression and Identity Exploration
Social media is most commonly used as a platform for self-expression and identity exploration. Groups for every kind of activity and hobby exist, allowing people to easily explore things they find interesting. Many popular apps are designed to help people share art, writing, and other forms of creative self-expression. According to Nature Communications, “[A]uthentic self-expression on social media was correlated with greater Life Satisfaction, an important component of overall well-being.”
The Negative Aspects of Social Media
Many people use social media to push agendas or mislead others. In addition, social media users often attack or harass one another in post comments. Mental health is significantly affected by how people choose to engage with others online. Below are two negative aspects of social media.
#1. Comparison Culture and the Illusion of Perfection
Thousands of social media influencers present a perfected illusion to millions of followers. People subscribed to influencer content may compare what they see online with their own lives and feel upset about their inability to achieve the same unrealistic standards.
#2. Cyberbullying and Online Harassment
Harassment and cyberbullying have been a part of internet culture since the start of social media. The anonymous nature of online conversations makes it easier for people to express socially unacceptable thoughts and beliefs. Anyone can experience cyberbullying. However, teens and young adults are more likely to be bullied and harassed online by their peers.
According to BMC Psychiatry, during one study, “Approximately 20% of the participants [spent] more than 12 h daily on the Internet, and the estimated overall prevalence of cyberbullying was 42.8%, with the male prevalence slightly higher than females.” Online bullying and harassment affect people’s mental health and overall stress levels.
Diving Deeper Into the Social Media Impact
Social media can impact all areas of a person’s life, from their sense of self-worth to their goals and productivity. People using social media are often unaware of how ingrained the apps have become into their daily routines. According to the General Services Administration (GSA), “Americans spend 50% of their time in their most-used app, and 78% in their top three favorite apps.” The content people absorb while on those apps profoundly affects their physical and mental health. Women have a higher risk of experiencing mental health disorders due to social media use.
The Role of Influencers and Celebrity Culture
Influencers have millions of followers absorbing everything they write and post. Celebrities also often have an active online presence to connect with their fans. Social media creates the illusion anyone can interact with influencers and celebrities. Many influencers use social media to craft a “perfect” life they can market to their followers. The relationship between influencer and follower is often manipulative and inherently deceptive. Even people who use social media to try and make a positive difference in their community tailor their posts to create a specific vibe and reaction.
#1. The ‘Influencer Ideal’
Influencers go out of their way to project an ideal domestic life with a perfect house, family, and job. The “influencer ideal” is usually fake or based on half-truths. Many followers allow themselves to fall prey to the unrealistic standards they see in their favorite influencers’ content, leading to dissatisfaction with their own lives.
#2. The Reality Behind the Screen
People on social media stage their content to elicit specific reactions from followers. Even seemingly spontaneous moments caught on camera are carefully orchestrated. Behind the screen, influencers are often stressed and struggling with mental health challenges or other issues. Hiding the reality behind their content deceives followers into believing their own lives are missing something important.
The Effects on Vulnerable Populations
Vulnerable populations, including adolescents, young adults, and individuals with mental health disorders, have a higher risk of developing issues related to social media use. According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), “Psychological research shows that young people mature at different rates, with some more vulnerable than others to the content and features on many social media platforms.” Individuals between 12 and 30 are more likely to experience the adverse side effects of regular social media use.
#1. Impact on Teens and Young Adults
Teens and young adults are more likely to experience a wide range of mental and physical health side effects if they spend the majority of their time on social media. Young women are especially vulnerable. According to the United States Senate Republican Policy Committee (RPC), “A decade-long study found that as the time teen girls spent on social media goes up, so does their long-term risk of suicide.” Teens and young adults are also more likely to experience sexual exploitation, cyberbullying, and harassment if they spend significant time on social media sites and apps.
#2. Impact on Mental Health Communities
Individuals with diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health issues are vulnerable to experiencing negative side effects of social media use. For example, people recovering from SUD may develop addictive behaviors related to social media use. In addition, many unqualified social media influencers offer advice on mental health.
Individuals with mental health issues may have difficulty vetting online sources of information. According to Springer Nature, in one review of social media disinformation research, “Posts with misinformation reached 87% in some studies.” Vulnerable individuals may not have access to in-person healthcare services, making them more reliant on social media. Unfortunately, many people cannot differentiate disinformation from legitimate mental health sources.
Proven Links Between Social Media and Self-Esteem
Social media consumption directly impacts a person’s sense of self, including self-esteem. According to The Nature of Depression, “The relationship between self-esteem and social media use was found to be negative, whereby lower self-esteem scores were associated with higher levels of social media use, and emotional investment in social media.” Men and women are both affected by excessive social media use. However, women are more likely to experience self-esteem issues surrounding physical appearance.
Counter Arguments: Is there a Neutral or Positive Link?
Social media does provide some positive and neutral content. For example, people who use social media to connect with loved ones may experience more positive mental health. In addition, social media apps make connecting with legitimate mental health resources easier. According to Health Promotions Perspective, social media “can be used to encourage preventive behaviors, foster social connectivity for better mental health, enable health officials to deliver timely information, and connect individuals to reliable information.”
Mitigating the Negative Impact
Mental health education and vetting sources are two of the best ways to reduce the negative impact of social media. People consuming content on social media need to know how to identify reliable sources. Community education and stricter laws regarding social media content could mitigate some of the negative side effects and protect vulnerable individuals.
The Role of Media Literacy
Media literacy is the ability to critically evaluate and analyze social media content, including the reliability of sources and any biases displayed within the content.
Some of the best ways to improve media literacy include:
- Being mindful when creating or consuming content
- Understanding the purpose of the content and the intended audience
- Learning to identify manipulation within content messages
Media literacy decreases the risk of social media content negatively affecting self-esteem and mental health.
Tools and Tips for a Healthy Online Experience
Spending time online can benefit or harm a person’s mental health and self-esteem. Below are two of the best ways to have a healthy online experience.
#1. Mindful Consumption Practices
Being mindful when engaging with content or other individuals online reduces the risk of negative experiences. Some of the ways people can be mindful online include:
- Identifying toxic individuals or channels and avoiding them
- Knowing when to block people or channels to prevent harassment
- Reporting harmful interactions or content to moderators
- Choosing to engage with positive individuals and channels
- Considering how content being posted and observed may impact others
The internet is a vast space. Avoiding conflict and negativity is a choice. Many positive, uplifting options are available to replace toxic influencers or channels.
#2. Seeking Professional Help
People struggling with low self-esteem or mental health issues should never rely on social media influencers to provide advice on how to manage their condition. Seeking professional help is the best way to address mental health issues. Emerge Recovery TX uses comprehensive assessments and screening tools to accurately diagnose and treat substance use and mental health disorders.
The Road Ahead: The Future of Social Media and Self-Esteem
Social media allows people to express themselves in many ways. Research showing the potential negative impact of social media sites and content has started a trend in ethical, social media design. Companies have begun to consider the mental health needs of online users. In addition, self-representation is being more scrutinized than ever. Influencers are starting to be held accountable for misleading content they post.
The future of social media and digital spaces has the potential to significantly improve and become a place where people benefit greatly from interacting with positive content. However, making that change requires followers and content creators to be more mindful of how they engage online.
Personal Responsibility and Navigating the Digital Landscape
Social media is a fantastic resource. Sites and apps allow billions of people worldwide to connect with one another and share experiences. Balance is essential when engaging with others online. People who engage in social media are responsible for the content they post, including comments or reactions, and the content they absorb. Being mindful when subscribing to channels or influencers plays a vital role in mitigating the negative aspects of social media. Emerge Recovery TX encourages women in recovery to practice self-care by practicing personal responsibility when navigating digital content.
Research has directly linked self-esteem with social media activity. Women, teens, and young adults are more likely to develop low self-esteem and mental health issues if they aren’t mindful of how they engage with others online. Social media is an incredible tool for good and helps people connect with important and helpful resources. However, it is also a space where cyberbullying, sexual exploitation, and harassment are commonplace. Emerge Recovery TX encourages women recovering from substance abuse or mental health issues to be mindful of the content they engage with online. To find out more about our treatment programs and the services we offer, call our office today at (737) 237-9663.