It is estimated that in 2020 that over 3.6 billion people used social media worldwide, for the purpose of staying connected to others, escaping reality or really, for something to do (Tankovska, 2021). This means that for many of us, social media takes up a large proportion of our leisure time, we are constantly scrolling for the latest updates or stalking our favourite celebrities (Andreassen and Griffiths, 2017).
However, this increasing popularity has led to numerous debates about both the positives and negatives social media has on our psychological wellbeing (Allen et al, 2020). A large proportion of the research into this is attributed to the impact of social media use on young people, with some evidence emerging that it is having a potential detrimental impact on their mental health (Lavis and Winter, 2020).
At Unmasked, we rely on social media to be able to reach out too many individuals to not only promote our services, but to offer support when people need it most. Our current social outreach is estimated at around 7 million, showing an increasingly active social media audience. We recognise the way that, in this instance, social media has the capability of being incredibly beneficial for Unmasked as an organisation and for the individuals that engage with our content (Berryman, Ferguson and Negy, 2018).
This reflects the way that social media is used to create a form of “social connectedness” (Allen et al, 2014), a sense of community and belonging, which is considered increasingly comforting for many individuals. Research suggests that those who may suffer with mental health problems somewhat rely on popular social media sites, such as Facebook, to communicate about their problems, using it as a platform to both give and receive support, sharing stories or coping strategies with likeminded peers (Gkotsis et al, 2016, Naslund et al, 2016).
As much of an advocate for the positivity social media can provide, I am not naive to recognise the equally negative impacts it can have on mental health. Especially amongst younger generations, the constant accessibility to witnessing all the ‘amazing’ things everyone appears to be doing on social media, can lead to feelings of loneliness, social anxiety and low self-esteem (Andreassen and Griffiths, 2016). Although a space that has the opportunity to provide multitudes of support, it can also be used as a tool for comparison and has been outlined by some research as a possible threat to mental wellbeing (O’Reilly et al, 2018).
For this reason, I think it is important to recognise the positive uses for social media to enable us to connect with others but also that there is a side to it that creates an unrealistic perception of individuals as their ‘best selves’. We live in a world that enables us to have frequent access to anyone online, so if we are not sharing, liking, commenting, we fear we are missing out on something (Lepik and Murumaa-Mengel, 2019). Social media is a great tool in modern communication, but it is worth recognising that if mistreated, research suggests that it can act as a catalyst for mental health issues. If you use social media, make sure you stay safe online and remember, we never know the mask someone behind the screen might be wearing – so always be kind!