Socializing is a key part of life at IMSA. We thrive off of connections with one another, as socializing helps us reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. Social media provides students another opportunity to maintain connections. Whether it’s texting your class group chat to ask about the homework or scrolling through Facebook, social media has become a key piece of the IMSA culture. While social media can boost our mental health, it can also weigh us down if it is used excessively.
The Pros of Social Media Use and Mental Health
Social media is an extremely powerful tool. Here at IMSA, social media can help us stay in contact with friends and family from home, as well as connect with others on campus. These social connections increase self-worth and joy, which reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, depression, and loneliness.
One powerful aspect of social media is that it can make socializing and reaching out for help easier for people who experience social anxiety. Here in the Chicago area, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Chicago has noticed several people reaching out to them through social media, as they find it easier than reaching out for help face-to-face. Em Couling, a Growth & Engagement Counselor at NAMI Chicago, said “we find at NAMI Chicago… people have a tendency to be comfortable in the social media space, and they occasionally find it easier to discuss their mental health journey on a platform rather than calling or speaking face to face. We support whatever methods help people find the help they need, and we know from our message inboxes on our social media platforms that social media is a method to getting that help.” So, if you are struggling to make connections with your peers, or if you want to reach out for help, social media can be a great platform for doing so.
Further, social media provides a platform to access information surrounding mental health. Today, there are hundreds of accounts that promote well-being and reduce stigmas surrounding mental health. Couling from NAMI Chicago said, “As a non-profit organization, our social media presence is vital in the effort to keep up brand awareness, and to ensure that those who could benefit from our services know that we’re available to them. We use our social media platforms to reach audiences on a person-to-person level that we would not have had access to in the pre-social media age. At their best, social media platforms create an environment for discussion that spans a global population–that means that we can start a conversation about the systems of mental health in Chicago and it can resonate across the country, and indeed, the world.”
The Cons of Social Media and Mental Health
When social media is misused, it can be extremely detrimental to mental health. Some effects that social media can have on mental health include:
- FOMO, or the fear of missing out, refers to feeling like others are having rewarding experiences while one is missing out. Here at IMSA, sometimes it can be difficult to see pictures of your friends from home having fun while you are away. Feeling left out can exacerbate feelings of homesickness, anxiety, and depression.
- Social media facilitates cyberbullying, which most greatly affects people of our age range. Many bullies find it easier to access their victims online, as they can attack others anonymously or without any in-person confrontation. As a result, 59% of American teens report being cyberbullied or experiencing online harassment.
- Spending too much time on social media, particularly late at night, can cause difficulty sleeping, which intensifies symptoms of depression and anxiety. We all know sleep is a precious thing for IMSA students; consider keeping your phone away from your bed so you won’t be tempted to scroll through social media when you could be catching some Zs.
- Inadequate self-image is another potential harm of social media. Social media can be filled with heavily photoshopped images, which impose unrealistic expectations on users. This can increase symptoms of depression, damaging both your social and academic life.
The key to benefiting from social media’s advantages and minimizing its harms is to find a balance in how and why you use it. Couling notes that “the world is hard enough to navigate–you don’t have to turn your personality into a brand and you don’t have to be on social media. For people in my peer group, we started using social media when it was first invented and didn’t discover how much it was harming us until it was far too late. Now with the Facebook Files and all the other peer-reviewed research that shows the adverse effects of social media on the brain, particularly young brains, we’re all starting to pull away from it. The only reason I’m still on social media is because it’s part of my job.” So, evaluate how much social media is essential to you. Get rid of anything that’s bringing you down, and consider limiting your notifications.
Further, follow some accounts that will lift you up! As you scroll through your feed of all the club events and things happening at IMSA, it is great to get a little pick-me-up! Posts of inspirational quotes can boost your mood, and information about mental health can help you better understand how you are feeling. Here are some accounts that help break down the stigma of mental health and promote well-being:
Instagram: @namichicago, @teen.mental.health.awareness, @blessingmanifesting
Facebook: Waves of Wellness, Mental Health Awareness, Mental Health Awareness Life
Make sure that you are doing what makes you truly happy. Couling said, “The best advice I can offer young people is to be true to yourself, as much as possible. I know it’s really difficult to resist peer pressure and to deal with FOMO, but the most important thing is to take care of yourself, to take care of others, and to seek whatever brings you joy. Social media can be a part of that, sure! Just try to be conscious of when it’s pulling joy away from you, rather than filling your cup.”