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Can Social Media Affect Mental Health?

Social media has become an important means of communication for young people, and it is also beneficial as a source of information and as social support.

The Woman Post | Catalina Mejía

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However, various studies have shown associations between poor mental health and social media in young people. Some reports have disclosed that girls are affected in a higher magnitude than boys. 

A report from the year 2018 by Booker and Colleagues, which used longitudinal data, revealed that girls are more affected than boys. The mentioned study examined the associations between social media interaction and wellbeing in girls and boys from 10 to 15-year-olds to see if there were gender differences. Studies have also suggested that there could be a possible link between the use of social media and sleep reductions due to notifications or fear of missing out, as well as online harassment or negative social comparisons, all of this leading to poor mental health. However, it is worth mentioning that the pathways between the use of social media and poor mental health have not been studied. 

According to Zilanawala and colleagues, who used population data from the UK Millenium Cohort Study on 10,904, 14-year-olds, the magnitude of the association between social media and depressive symptoms was larger for girls than for boys. The mentioned study revealed that increased use of social media, is related to online harassment, reduced sleep, decreased self-esteem, and poor body image, which in turn result in higher depressive symptoms scores.

Also read: LET'S DETECT THE ALERTS OF OUR MENTAL HEALTH

Even though the pathways remain to be further analyzed, the study suggests that higher hours of social media use can be linked to body weight dissatisfaction, which is also related to depression symptom scores and affects self-esteem. On the other hand, a study by D.A de Vries and colleagues suggests that online images which have been manipulated to impose an idea of idealized beauty, lead to negative body image perceptions which in turn are linked to poor mental health. 

The results of the study by Zilanawala and others revealed that girls reported being on social media for more hours than boys. A higher percentage of girls reported being victims or perpetrators of online harassment than boys, ( 38.7% vs 25.1%). Girls were also more likely to show signs of low self-esteem (12.8% vs 8.9%), to be unsatisfied with their weight  (78.2% vs 68.3%), and to be unhappy with their appearance (15.4% vs 11.8%). Girls also were likely to report sleeping less than boys (13.4% vs 10.8%). 

Now, bearing in mind the difficulties that come with regulating the time that young girls and boys spend on social media, it becomes relevant to question ourselves what to do to better their mental health. Some professionals have claimed that it is important to control the time that adolescents spend on social media, and encourage them to stop using them at night, not lose physical contact with friends, and exercise on a regular basis to promote mental health. However, a complementary way to tackle the associations between poor mental health and the use of social media in girls could be to educate them at various levels on the concept of body neutrality which is defined as a body image move that does not focus on appearance. Body neutrality is about gratitude with our bodies as vehicles that help us breathe, think, walk and run towards our dreams. Teaching girls to see and to value their bodies aside from their physical appearance could be a first step towards encouraging a healthy relationship between girls and their bodies. 

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