When it comes to the myriad of ways the Internet has changed lives across the globe one of the most prominent examples that comes to mind is social media.
These platforms, built specifically to broadcast a specific aspect of someone’s personality, are not only treasure troves of information and creativity but also the source of countless hours of wasted time and trivial experiences.
Considering the impact services like Twitter and Facebook have on life at large, it would lead one to question why this outsized impact comes from such a relatively small segment of the global economy.
Further, even after numerous privacy breaches and evidence of malfeasance on the part of many social media platforms, people still continue to log in, post, comment, and like almost every single day, often multiple times a day.
This behavior is likened by many to that of an addict who just can’t keep away from something he knows is deleterious to his health. But the question remains: Is social media bad for your health?
And, further, is it addictive like alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs? If you ask medical specialists in the fields of psychology and psychiatry the answer is an overwhelming yes and the threat posed by social media addiction to a healthy society is one that needs to be addressed – and quickly.
Various reports are emerging that link increased social media use to a range of maladies from depression to feelings of social isolation and disaffection with life. Most importantly, social media addiction is hampering the ability of some teens to develop coping strategies for coming to grips with the foibles of adult life according to research cited by The Guardian.
Growing up in a world of constant exposure, these teens are struggling to develop some of the basic necessities of self care and the ability to evaluate situations outside of the immediate context. In other words, when social media becomes a huge part of a teen’s life a large part of that teen’s happiness is dictated by that medium in a phenomenon that Dr. Van Gordon tells The Guardian is “self addiction.”
Business Daily Africa carefully delineates the definition of depression that the team used in its research, describing it as “…characterised by persistent sadness and loss of interest in activities that affected individuals once enjoyed.”
The publication further adds: “It is also accompanied by the inability to carry out daily activities, loss of energy, sleep challenges, reduced concentration, feelings of worthlessness, indecisiveness, restlessness, hopelessness, guilt and thoughts of self harm or suicide.”
This also impacts adults as well although in different ways. Business Daily Africa says that, where adults are concerned, social media can actually heighten feelings of depression and isolation and acts as a medium through which these troubles are amplified.
Though it is easy to see how social media can have come correlational impact on depression and other negative feelings, what exactly ties it to the phenomenon of addiction? In other words, what defines an addiction from something that is merely routine. Here social media addiction suffers from the ability to mask itself as something both innocent and sinister. By becoming a part of daily life, social media can insinuate itself in daily routines in much the same way as checking the mail or paying bills has.
Thus social media becomes harder to isolate as something malignant because “everybody does it.” Dr. Van Gordon, for his part, described his research team’s classification of social media addiction as “ontological addiction” in that, if ceased, people will suffer from withdrawal symptoms.
He commented to The Guardian, “Problematic social media use can cause people to be drawn further into the condition and its associated negative consequences.”
One of the main negative effects of social media is that it disassociates users from their true self, or in other words: “For instance, when using social media, people can construct another layer of selfhood that feeds on likes, shares and followers for its existence, but that does not reflect an accurate portrayal of the individual’s true nature. If we interact with social media and technology mindlessly and are used by them, they tend to draw us away from the present moment.”
As for how to fix this Gordon suggests that people focus on developing self awareness of their habits as well as who they are. Detaching from the social media service is only part of the solution while a more long term approach would incorporate self-awareness activities such as meditation and the ability to cope with life outside of the social media platform.
For its part, Business Daily Africa delineates a range of activities people can engage in to lessen the symptoms of depression as well as remove themselves from social media platforms including “having a positive mindset, making time for hobbies or interests, getting enough sleep, accepting that certain things are beyond your control, engaging in regular physical exercise, spending enough time with friends or those whose company you enjoy, learning to say No to requests that would create excessive stress in your life and effective time management.”
One of the overriding themes that research emphasizes is that the stigma around depression and mental health needs to be eliminated in order for effective treatment to be applied at more universal levels.
Even though depression is one of the most common mental health issues the number of people who seek treatment for it is staggeringly low given the probable prevalence of it in society. In fact, Business Daily Africa advises that mental health units need to be integrated into local hospitals just like any other core department.
Naturally, even though research points to social media addiction being a very real thing analysts caution on drawing universal conclusions from this research. For one, social media use is often heavily tied to smartphone and mobile phone use which is also the subject of numerous studies that demonstrate they are habit forming as well. This becomes a question of what came first the chicken or the egg with regard to social media platforms many of which are accessed primarily through smartphones and mobile devices.
POLL RESULTS FROM ASK THE DOCTOR’S INSTAGRAM SURVEY:
Our survey found that 96% of users surveyed spend at least 15 minutes a day on instagram, 68% spend more than 45 minutes and 43% spend more than 2 hours.