The impact of the media on mental health and how to reduce its negative effects


Mikayla Schwartz, Contributing Writer

Social media is how people stay in touch, find information, and entertain themselves, but it is important to acknowledge that it can contribute to a poor mental state due to the biased perception of reality it often creates and the unrealistic body images it promotes.  These negative impacts are particularly visible in young adults. 

According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, “teens average around seven hours per day on social media, while tweens clock in around five hours per day.”

This statistic has caused some concern, as images on social media are not always what they seem.  Social media is often used to connect with people you do not regularly see, which can positively impact a young person’s mental health.  However, some interactions on social media can cause users to be unable to differentiate between what is real and what is a distortion of reality.

“When watching TV, kids often consume idealized lives that are different from their own experiences…  But social media is unique because adolescents are seeing pictures, videos, and status updates from their own network of friends and peers,” said researcher Patricia Conrod of The Douglas Research Center. 

Teenagers may compare their lifestyles to those of other teens when what is presented on social media is often unrealistic and inaccurate.  These comparisons can damage a person’s mental well-being, so it is of the utmost importance for young people to keep this knowledge in mind when using social media. 

“I sometimes delete Instagram off of my phone, so it doesn’t distract me or affect my mental health,” said junior Madison Forman. 

The issue of teen social media use has been in the news even more recently due to the increased discovery of just how many children use social media on a daily basis, despite age restrictions.  Senator Richard Blumenthal, chair of the subcommittee investigating Facebook’s responsibility for the negative impact that Instagram may have on youth mental health, aimed to prove that apps such as Instagram are harmful to teens. 

Blumenthal’s staff went undercover “as a 13-year-old girl following accounts associated with eating disorders to see what Instagram would recommend.  It found the platform sent the account further into the rabbit hole of harmful content,” said Kari Paul and Dan Milmo in an article in The Guardian.

This could have an immense impact on how teens evaluate information and increase feelings of insecurity, inadequacy, and rejection, significantly harming mental health. 

Social media users often post edited or filtered images of themselves, leading to self-consciousness, anxiety, or depression among teenagers who view and compare themselves to them.  While looking to boost self-esteem and feel a sense of belonging in their social circles, users often post pictures of themselves to which they think that others will react positively.  This can create many issues surrounding body image, especially considering that the teen years are a vulnerable time for the development of body image issues. 

“Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat increase the likelihood of seeing unrealistic, filtered photos at a time when teen bodies are changing,” said Dr. Jacqueline Sperling, in an article affiliated with McLean Hospital.

Seeing these images can profoundly affect teens and make them want to change the way they look or cause them to feel like they are not good-looking enough.  As a result, many teens develop mental illnesses surrounding their bodies, and social media is likely a primary contributing factor towards this issue. 

“As a society, we have normalized using social media so much that we tend to overlook the countless negative effects that impact people’s daily lives, like FOMO or increased feelings of isolation,” said Natural Helper and senior Sadie Mandel.  

There are many ways to reduce the stress these apps can cause teens.  For example, screen time settings on your phone serve as a gentle reminder to exit social media for the day.  Additionally, allow for specific times during the day when you go view social media and other times when you do not allow yourself to go on it. 

“I often set screen time limits on my phone, just to remind myself not to spend too much time on social media,” said junior Gail Rowe. 

It is unrealistic to expect teens to cut off social media usage completely.  However, by following some of these suggestions, teens can better ensure a positive headspace and reduce the harms social media has on them.  You can also reach out to any trusted professional psychologist at Schreiber who is able to help you.