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Why is social media affecting our mental health?

In 2019 a YouGov survey revealed that 18% of young people in the UK do not think life is worth living, which had doubled in the last decade. There have been many studies documenting the correlation between the rise in social media and feelings of inadequacy which can lead to depression and anxiety. But why is it affecting us so negatively?

In the recent documentary, The Social Dilemma, it shows the deliberately addictive nature of social media platforms and how we are encouraged to interact with the content. The constant availability of images to compare ourselves too is fuelling our dissatisfaction with life. Many studies have found a strong link between heavy social media use and an increase risk for depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm and suicidal thoughts. When things are not going well in my life, I often torture myself by looking at happy posts from my social media friends which makes me feel even worse. When I am feeling low it is easy to look at social media and think that everyone else is living their best life apart from me. However, I realised that during the start of lockdown I was feeling more satisfied with my life despite my use of social media increasing.

I discovered a possible answer for this in ‘The art of being happy’ by the Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler. We have a tendency to compare our situation to others, and social media gives us a very accessible platform for this. Our feeling of life satisfaction often depends on who we compare ourselves too. In this world of celebrity culture and social media this can cause many of us problems. If we are constantly comparing ourselves to people who we perceive as more successful, beautiful, or smarter than we are, that can lead to feelings of envy, frustration and unhappiness. During lockdown, because everyone was in the same situation and unable to go out, there was less to compare my life negatively with. There was also lots of compassion on social media, as a nation we were thinking about the key workers who were putting themselves on the front line. It was easy to compare myself to them and think at least I am able to stay safe at home. This made me grateful for all that I had. So although it was a time of anxiety, I felt less envy and I felt more satisfied with my life than I had ever felt before.

If we shift our perspective to contemplating how our lives could be worse, it can improve our levels of satisfaction. I have often heard the adage about not comparing your internal life with someone else’s external life. The images we are presented with on social media are not real life, they are often filtered and exaggerated. You are unlikely to take a photo at time when you are having a tough time. I know that I have been in an unhappy situation, but as soon as someone points a camera at me, I put on a happy face and create a lie. So the next time you are feeling dissatisfied with your life, try thinking I’m glad I am not’ instead of thinking ‘I wish I were’ and hopefully your satisfaction with your own situation will improve.

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