Is social media good or bad for your mental health?

Social media can offer a support network that doesn’t exist offline. (pic: istockphoto.com/zakokor)

There was a tweet doing the rounds recently that said: “Gym: full of people you see every day but never speak to. Twitter: people you never see but speak to every day.”

The tweet jokily sums up the role social media has come to play in our lives. But is your daily life on Twitter/ Facebook/Pinterest etc always so light-hearted?

This is a debate that mental health charity Mind put to the Twittersphere today. It asked: is #twittergood or #twitterbad for your mental health?, which understandably prompted a lot of responses from tweeters. Here’s my interpretation of the two sides of the debate:

Social media is ‘good’ when:

  • Connecting with someone who totally understands what you’re going through is a relief and a saviour. You feel you’re not the only one. It’s great to have that support network.
  • Finding information and resources you never knew about but could be helpful to you.
  • The anonymity of online ‘friends’ can help you become more open. Being honest about feelings can help you deal with and come to terms with them. 
  • The ‘social’ aspect of social media can make you feel less isolated. Interacting with someone online can give you a purpose, a joy, a sense of belonging.

Social media is ‘bad’ when:

  • The online world becomes a substitute for face-to-face interaction. Do you prefer the company of your virtual friends and feel you therefore don’t need to reach out to your ‘real-world’ friends?
  • It becomes an exposed forum for nasty comments. This mostly happens to people in the public eye, but the cloak of anonymity can make some people ‘braver’ in their criticisms. It can be tricky knowing how to deal with comments from people who don’t agree with you.
  • You feel the need to put on a ‘brave face’ when you least feel able to. The pressure to post photos and upbeat comments can be disheartening and exhausting and leave you out of touch with the authentic you.
  • It becomes an obsession. Constantly checking how many ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ you’ve How many people have responded. Relationships and friendships have broken down because someone needs to monitor their phone during meetings and social gatherings. Even during the night. The newly coined term for this is ‘social media anxiety disorder’. Check out: do you have the signs?

The counselling profession is working towards helping people with issues related to social media anxiety and online bullying, and is providing therapy online. Many people, used to interacting virtually, prefer the anonymity of e-counselling. The UKCP is setting up New Media in Psychotherapy Interest Group to explore how psychotherapists can best help people in the social media sphere. And for more of an insight, check out this overview of social media and online therapy in the BACP’s article on E-therapy, equality and access.

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