Social media and mental health

For many students, waking up and immediately checking their phone is just another part of their daily routine; however, as social media and technology become an even more integral part of our lives, it’s presence manifests uniquely for different individuals.

Alex Nagin (9) sees the issue as heavily gendered, with females feeling immense pressures to present themselves in certain ways online, causing issues surrounding body image and feelings of inadequacy, he said.

“The danger with social media is that it provides an artificial platform to try to supplement feelings of insecurity rather than seeking healthier spaces to cope with those issues,” Nagin said.

Upper Division psychologist Dr. Ian Pervil sees social media and technology as both potentially helpful and harmful to students’ wellness, depending on how they are used, he said.

“Think of how much we can learn about wellness from the internet or from apps that are tailored to our needs; at the same time, think of how undermining and damaging it can feel to be exposed to influences that undermine our self-esteem and hurt our well-being.” Pervil said.

For her “Change” project in health class, Kate Bown (10) decided to use the app Headspace for five to ten minutes of meditation each night. While Bown enjoyed the app at first, by the end of the project she found that doing something without a screen, such as talking with family or journaling, helped her de-stress more, she said.

Helena Kopans-Johnson (11) rarely uses social media more than once a day, and if she does, it is often during “transitory times,” she said.

The use of certain platforms of social media have the powerful potential of interfering with our “biologically-ingrained rewards systems,” Pervil said. “[These platforms] provide meaningful rewards, but they do so inconsistently.”

“Take Snapchat for instance: getting a message from a friend feels nice for a couple of seconds, and then you may not get a message for a little while,” he said. “That pattern of rewards actually makes us crave more, and so you can feel a real sense of need for more messages and a real sense of loss when you don’t get messages.”

Isha Agarwal (11) uses Snapchat more than she’d like to, she said.”As much as I’d like to say it’s for communication purposes, like many, I get caught up in streaks and maintaining friendships through the length of streaks.”

Like Pervil, some students are also concerned with the dangers associated with social media as it effects mental health. Dalia Pustilnik (9) believes that there are different risks associated with social media for different age groups when it comes to editing apps, she said. Such apps can have a very negative effect on young, impressionable users who may not realize what is real and what is not, Pustilnik said.

An app like Facetune, which is a photo editing application used to edit, enhance, and retouch photos, allows the user to present an “‘improved’ but fictional self” to the world that conforms to technologically-built standards of beauty and youth, resulting in those who use such apps possibly feeling unworthy of compliments and attention they get and others who don’t engage in the apps feeling like everyone is prettier than they are, Pervil said.

As a photographer, Kopans-Johnson will often edit her photos, changing contrast or brightness, but she feels as though other forms of editing can be dangerous because they present only the best side of a situation, she said.

Mandy Liu (10) uses editing apps to edit the lighting and background colors, but a lot of her friends use Facetune for physical features, she said.

“Personally, I think if someone is smoothing out their face or removing a pimple, I don’t think that is very detrimental to their self-esteem, but when it comes to editing their entire body in a way that they don’t even look like the same person, that is when editing is a problem,” Liu said. “When people keep using editing apps, they feel like they can’t post another picture without editing it, and it creates a never-ending cycle.”

Liu isn’t alone in her dislike for social media’s tendency to misrepresent reality. Justin Gurvitch (9) opts for social media forums like Reddit because he finds that unlike Instagram, users on Reddit are very honest, he said. For Gurvitch, the platform provides a sense of comraderie and allows him to connect with people from all different walks of life.

One asepect of Reddit Gurvitch enjoys is “the excitement you feel when a post explodes,” he said. After posting a fact about Jon Bon Jovi’s resteraunt on, “Today I Learned,” a sub-Reddit he frequents, Gurvitch received 44,000 likes in addition to 860 comments.

For Jonathan Mong (10) as avid Yankees fan, being on the baseball sub-Redditt has allowed him to learn sabermetrics and how they work, he said. On the flipside, Mong often finds himself procrastinating on Reddit and has a hard time getting his work done, he said.

Not only is social media a source of excitement and recreation, for some students, certain platforms have more functional purposes. For Josh Benson (12), activism posts on Instagram and Facebook that address issues that are important to him are for the key purpose of educating, agitating, and organizing, whereas Reddit and private Facebook groups are more for recreational purposes, he said.

“I post about events that I’m going to in order to get people to go and support,” Benson said. “I also use it to find events to go to and to find groups to associate with.”

Similarly, Charlotte Cebula (11) follows many activists and organizations on her social media platforms and reposts their content on her own accounts , she said. She also often leaves links in her bio so that people can donate to organizations, such as Planned Parenthood and American Civil Liberties Union, of which she is a member, Cebula said.

“A lot of the ways people get awareness about issues is through Instagram and Facebook becaue they don’t really follow the news, so [posting on social media is] my way of helping people become more aware,” she said.

While some social media platforms can be used as a catalyst for activism and spreading awareness about certain issues, others have shyed away from certain platforms after having been a regular user. Ben Lee (11) decided to stop using Reddit during his sophomore year after realizing the anonymity of the platform bred toxicity and hate speech, he said. Lee initially starting using the platform to connect with his peers in debate, but began to take issue with the superlatives circulating on the debate sub-Reddit such as “hottest debater” and “worst debater,” he said.

Some students report that social media helps them keep in touch with their goals. As someone who workouts regularly, checking his YouTube subscriptions to fitness channels is part Phillip Shen (12)’s daily routine, he said. For Shen, the biggest benefit of YouTube is content that provides information on good nutrition as well as proper form when working out. Despite this, Shen believes incorrect information can be harmful, which is why he makes a conscious effort to fact-check his sources, he said.

For some students, social media can do more harm than good, Chloe Choi (9) said. “When people hang out, especially in groups, they want to post on Snap and Instagram and let everyone know that they’re hanging out and a lot of people can be hurt by that if they weren’t included.”

While social media has its benefits and drawbacks, it can serve as a powerful tool in connecting people, Agarwal said.

“I understand that there are a lot of problems in terms of body image and perpetuating stereotypes of certain groups of people, but I think that there are so many uses to social media that we overlook.”

For example, Agarwal easily keeps in touch with family that lives across the world in India as well as friends who have left for college due to the power of social media.

“We often take the methods of connections that are at our fingertips for granted,” Agarwal said.