Many people spend a lot of time on social media. If we’re not updating a status, or posting a tweet, we’re un-tagging, hashtagging, and double-tapping photos posted by friends or strangers. In the past, research has suggested that social media negatively affects mental health, with the online app Instagram being labeled as the "worst for young mental health". Now, a new study contradicts these claims.
The research, published in Psychiatric Quarterly, found few links between social media and mental health issues in young adults. How it was used was found to have more of an impact than the length of time spent on it.
“We do not deny the potential for some online behaviors to be associated with mental health problems, rather we propose that research focus on the behavior of individuals rather than assume media is the root cause of all socio-personal problems,” said lead author Berryman, from the University of Central Florida, in a statement.
Berryman and her colleagues asked 467 young adults to fill out a number of questionnaires, which touched on how they felt about social media, how seriously they took it, and how often they were on it. They were also asked about their mental health, levels of social anxiety, their access to social support, and their relationships with their parents. Factors like suicidal thoughts and loneliness were also taken into account.
The researchers also looked at “vaguebooking” – sharing cryptic messages online to spark attention from others. “Vaguebooking was slightly predictive of suicidal ideation, suggesting this particular behavior could be a warning sign for serious issues,” said Berryman.
From the results, it seems as though the link between social media and poor mental health might be a little far-fetched. “Overall, results from this study suggest that, with the exception of vaguebooking, concerns regarding social media use may be misplaced,” added Berryman.
“Our results are generally consistent with other studies which suggests that how people use social media is more critical than the actual time they spend online with regards to their mental health.”
Earlier this year, Bridianne O’Dea, a researcher at the Black Dog Institute, told Huffington Post Australia that many believe social media makes people feel worse about themselves, negatively affecting their mental health.
"It is probably true for quite a number of people, but when we take big scientific studies and put it up to the rigor of science, those relationships [between social media and mental health] don't ring true," O’Dea said.
So, even though social media might give us a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) from time to time, its effects aren't as concerning as many tend to believe.