Social media has become imbedded in the lives of almost everyone in modern society, chances are you discovered this article via social media. Though it can be a useful platform for communication, what is the extent of its effects on mental health?
It is likely that you have heard how we are the most connected now than we have ever been in the history of our species yet there is an immense boost in the levels of depression and isolation. This statement seems contradictory at a glance however delving further into the psychology and evolution of the human race reveals a clear connection to this phenomenon.
Humans evolved as social creatures. We developed villages, towns and cities all through the interaction and collaboration with others. This type of evolution has made our brains wired to want human interaction to satisfy a base desire in our brain chemistry. Social media offers this ability however the results experienced by interacting on social media is superficial and not enough to stimulate the brain the way it has always required through evolution.
Take for example the feeling of immense hunger. You can satisfy this base need with a teaspoon of sugar or with a proper meal. The teaspoon of sugar will release enough chemicals in the brain to momentarily alleviate the hunger but it will soon return whereas a proper meal will leave you satisfied for hours. Interacting on social media is equally the same – the superficial interactions are simply a drop of water to someone dying of thirst. The final example we see is how so many people have hundreds or thousands of “friends” on certain social media platforms yet the concept of friendship dictates that two individuals must put time and effort into growing together through a mutual interest; in science it is called Dunbar’s number.
Other problems that arise from the use of social media is the feelings of inadequacy and depression that can come with comparison. Many people use social media as a platform to show off their highlight reel meaning they show the (perceived) best version of themselves in an amazing location or with expensive items. Whatever the reason for this (another topic completely), people who view this scene will often compare their own current living situation to what they are seeing from this other person. It has always been unhealthy to compare ourselves to others but now with the ability to see how others live their lives at the click of a button – it affects our mental health so much more.
So why is social media so effective in getting people using it consistently even though it can leave us feeling so terrible? Simply, the programs are designed and altered to provide a dopamine hit every time we use it. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that gives us the feeling of satisfaction after completing a task, a reward chemical if you will. However much like the social interaction mentioned above, the dopamine hit from viewing things on social media is light. This becomes dangerous as the brain will crave more and more and as such you find yourself clicking, scrolling and refreshing endlessly throughout the day.
It is advisable to limit your interaction with social media. Use it as required – business is a good example. Otherwise limit your time on the sites and applications and seek out real social interaction wherever possible. Though many people consider the communication solely via social networks to be convenient, it will end up doing more damage than good.