Technology and the internet play an increasingly large role in the lives of people. However, the effects of the online space on specific demographics are poorly explored, with contradictory results from different researchers. In particular, the effects of social media and IM software on the mental wellbeing of university students is highly debated. This work will examine the available body of literature in order to see present gaps in knowledge. While the majority of experts argue that exposure to the web can lead to depression, anxiety and other mental disorders, specifics of the cause-effect relationship are not clear. Furthermore, the exact causes for mental health disturbances vary in origin, ranging from prolonged use to exposure to specific types of information. Cyberbullying and peer pressure are also brought up as significant factors in the process. Additionally, some sources see potential in the internet as a tool for coping and relaxation. Overall, it should be noted that the results are highly inconclusive, and different studies point to different causes for internet-related mental health problems. More research that is able to differenciate between the various types of online social interactions is needed in order to reach significant progress in this field.
With the development of technology, many of the innovations brought along with it became irreplaceable in the lives of modern people. Internet, especially, gained tremendous popularity over only a couple of decades. Coming from a decentralized space for hobbyists and workers, the worldwide web of today mainly exists as a series of global hubs, each used to fulfill a particular role. In this variety, social media websites, and other messaging services remain among the most widely used, being applied for both professional and casual communication.
Communication between people is performed both on a necessary and voluntary basis, depending on the circumstances. Children and teenagers are becoming closely familiar with social network sites from a young age, making it a significant part of their lives. However, the exact implications of social media use on the mental health of young adults are still insufficiently understood. Some studies show that social media use is detrimental, while others see it as a benefit, with both sides presenting strong evidence. Due to the central role the internet plays in society, realizing the full potential array of implications becomes a necessity. This work will cover the many effects social media use has on university students and other young learners. In particular, a focus on potential negative effects for mental health, as well as the opportunities for mental health support the platform presents will be made.
Why Young Adults Use Technology
To start the discussion, it may first be necessary to gain a better understanding of why technology even came into prominent use with university students. First, social media is used as a method of communication. With the coming of the digital age, it is easier than ever for an individual to meet or befriend people they have never met in person. Be it those from another part of town, state or another country, social media and messaging apps erase the distance between people. Due to this, a significant portion of young people spends their free time chatting with friends over social media. Additionally, social media communication introduces convenience into the field of social interaction. An environment that gives people the opportunity to talk without the need of finding a significant amount of spare time to meet up or use slower methods of communication. Messaging over social media can often be performed simultaneously with other activities, such as public transportation and shopping.
The social media of today also performs the role of a news source for people. Official government agencies, organizations, news companies, and normal people all share information about what is happening in all around the globe. Most people find it necessary or convenient to stay in touch with the latest events around them, making social media an ideal medium to get the necessary information. Alternatively, social media websites exist as a form of public community (Turkle, 1999). Offering a sense of communal belonging, the internet creates a new kind of virtual identity for its users. People using a specific social media platform partially affiliate themselves with it, and understand other users as other participants of the group identity. In the individualistic and fractured world of today, social media, at least to a degree, fulfills the need for a local community. Compared to the capitalistic focus on personal merit, and the perpetual busyness of large cities, online platforms create a safer way for one to find like-minded people and be a part of something larger than themselves.
How Social Media Affects Mental Health
As mentioned previously, the actual implications of social media use on university students are diverse. While many experts argue that the activity is conductive to mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, the specific causes behind the trend vary depending on the source. Karim et al. (2020), in their literature review regarding the subject, also highlight a disparity of results. Some experts consider prolonged use of social media to be detrimental, while others gravitate more towards the actual types of content that people interact with. Alternatively, some sources even claim that social media use can be beneficial to relieving stress and improving communication. Due to the variety of results, each significant category of consideration for this discussion will be covered separately.
Time Spent on Social Media as a Determinant of Mental Health
Time spent on social media can be a determinant on its effects on one’s psyche. According to Deepa and Priya (2020), hours spent on social media sites directly contribute to depression and anxiety. Such sites as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, among others, are identified as the largest threat to mental wellness. According to the findings of their examination, longer use of social media during the schooling period is linked with cases of mental illness. It is hypothesized that longer times spent on social media contribute to eroding real-life connections, alienating individuals. With larger portions of the day being spent online, opportunities to form connections with people close by are limited.
The study is important for both noting the potential danger of longer social media use, and highlighting the specific social media platforms that are being discussed. Additionally, the authors pose that there are specific interventions that can be used in order to mitigate the severity of social media harm. Dialectical thinking, in particular, along with positive modes of thinking, meditation, and active coping are said to be beneficial. However, it is necessary to highlight that not all sources agree with the assertions made in Deepa and Priya’s (2020) work. In particular, Gordon et al. (2007) argue against their assertion, stating that the length of time spent on social media sites is irrelevant to their potential harm. Instead, the researchers note another possible factor for this consideration which will be discussed below.
Individual Choices and Mental Health
For researchers of the paper called “Internet Use and Wellbeing among College Students: Beyond Frequency of Use”, accessing potential internet harm from the perspective of time spent is insufficient (Gordon et al., 2006). In their work, the authors assume that how a person spends their time is the most important metric in the discussion. Rates of internet use among college students are examined as a part of this research paper, noting some of the potential reasons why people might be attracted to the online space.
As a result of their overview, Gordon et al propose that the way people spend their time on social media platforms is the most relevant criteria in understanding possible implications. Much like other experts, the researchers note that the increase in internet use has positioned it as an irreplaceable part of life and the vital method for interaction. Junco et al. (2011), in agreement with Gordon, pose that social media is conductive to social isolation and separation from reality. With the increased reliance on social media came peer pressure and harmful online environments, which often mold people according to trends or public ideals. The desire to be accepted and conform, then, forces people to adopt habits they would not have otherwise enjoyed. A need to perform adherence, as well as the constant exposure to social trends, then, contributes to depression and anxiety.
Bullying, Peer Pressure and Other Modes of Interaction
More direct harms also exist within the social media space, ones that must also be discussed. As mentioned by other experts in their discussions, social media and the internet often becomes a source of peer pressure for users. Harmful ideas are spread more easily online, with the large user bases and the instantaneous nature of many apps. Fear of missing out, coupled with the need to adhere with the desires of the community, are both noted by Lattie et al. (2019) to be especially dangerous for students. The social climate created on online platforms closely correlates with depression, anxiety. Skilbred-Fjeld et al. (2020) take a considerably different approach to other researchers, focusing on the more direct problem of cyberbullying. Many people online experience harassment based on their appearance, gender, identity, race, or other parts of their lives. Cyberbullying is a persistent problem that is difficult to solve, and the convenience of most online platforms only serves to make the problem worse. The constant threat of harassment, coupled with social alienation, often results in mental instability.
Benefits of Social Media
Prevalence of social medial also presents numerous potential benefits to society. The online space can be used to support people, give them a sense of being understood and a space to air out their grievances. Junco et al. (2011), for example, understand the internet as a coping mechanism for people, capable of relieving their stress. The authors pose that IM, or instant messages, in particular, is capable of helping people find company when needed, despite its potential to cause negative feelings. Similarly, social media and the online space can be a place of learning and coping, one that allows people to engage with their mental health issues and resolve them in a more comprehensive manner.
Overall, while the effects of social media on university students have been previously examined, the present results are inconclusive. Researchers point to contradictory causes for mental health problems, while being unable to fully agree with each other on the scope or severity of the problem. Additionally, the role of social media and IM apps in mitigating depression, anxiety and other conditions is rarely discussed. It is necessary that more thorough research is conducted in order to better understand the role of online spaces in mental illness. In addition, it is possible to decrease the potential dangers of web platforms through such research. Giving the public access to more information about the effects of online spaces allows most people to be informed and conscientious when using the worldwide web. Similarly, those designinig social media will have more evidence for their platform-making decisions, leading to the creation of supportive and stable social environments. Through increased interest in the subject of social media influence, the ability of people to better navigate and create online experiences increases.
Deepa, M., & Priya, K. (2020). Impact of social media on mental health of students. International Journal of Scientific & Technology Research, 9(03). 3796-3800.
Gordon, C., Juang, L., & Syed, M. (2007). Internet use and wellbeing among college students: Beyond frequency of use. Journal of College Student Development, 48(6), 674-688.
Junco, R., & Cotten, S. R. (2011). Perceived academic effects of instant messaging use. Computer & Education, 56(2), 370-378.
Karim, F., Oyewande, A. A., Abdalla, L. F., Ehsanullah, R. C., & Khan, S. (2020). Social media use and its connection to mental health: A systematic review. Cureus, 12(6). 1-7.
Lattie, E. G., Lipson, S. K., & Eisenberg, D. (2019). Technology and college student mental health: Challenges and opportunities. Frontiers in psychiatry, (10), 246.
Skilbred-Fjeld, S., Reme, S. E., & Mossige, S. (2020). Cyberbullying involvement and mental health problems among late adolescents. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 14(1).
Turkle, S. (1999). Looking toward cyberspace: Beyond grounded sociology. Cyberspace and identity. Contemporary Sociology, 28(6), 643-648.