How Does Social Media Affect Mental Health?

How Does Social Media Affect Mental Health?


Invasive, pervasive, and addictive. Love it or hate it, or simply undecided, we must accept that social media is here to stay. Sherry Botros, Counselling Psychologist at Nine Psychology clinic in Maadi, weighs in on the pros and cons of our social media addiction.


A very high percentage of users between 18 to 29 years of age are shown in studies to spend more time on social media than on eating. This in itself is an indication of the influence it has over youth today. It is widely and easily accessible through cell phones, iPads and computers, with some schools even requiring homework and coursework to be done online.

One of the dangers lies in the problem that – as defined within ‘co-construction theory’ – social media enables and encourages children and young people to construct their social media reality and social identity based on what they post and how their network perceives them. It also lies in the amount of time young people are spending on social media.

All of this can have a major psychological impact on the emotional development and wellbeing of children and young people. A recent study in Canada showed that 7 out of 12 students who were using social media for two hours or more daily reported higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

Social media can have a significant impact upon relationships with family and friends, self-image, and perceived social popularity, there is also a strong correlation between being bullied online and in person.


Recent studies have shown that adults check their social media accounts around 28 times a day. The desire to check your phone for messages and notifications affects dopamine, a hormone and neurotransmitter related to the reward-center of the brain associated with reward-motivated behavior. The anticipation of most types of rewards increases the level of dopamine in the brain, and many apps are now intentionally designed with various “hooks” that literally keep us hooked on checking for updates and responses, so it can become an addiction. Another issue is that we seek validation through different forms of social media and this can evolve into a form of co-dependency and a vicious cycle creating a need for more validation.  We check the ‘likes’, post again, and become anxious if we see someone has read our messages but not replied instantly or if we find we have no internet access.

Common effects of social media interaction can include feelings of exclusion and victimization, symptoms of internalizing and externalizing others’ problems, a sense of loneliness and emptiness and an overwhelming need to ‘belong’, to the extent that we now have the common term ‘FOMO’ (Fear Of Missing Out).  People experience “the desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing and the possibility of others having fun in one’s absence,” and this is associated with feelings of being unpopular or isolated. This might also be reflected in the extent of emotional investment in social media usage. We can have the tendency to make comparisons and perceive our own insecurities compared to others’ highlights or successes, leading to emotional phenomena such as “Facebook envy”. It has been reported in several surveys that participants who disconnected from or were not engaged with social media reported higher life satisfaction compared to those who frequently use social media.


What we see on social media affects our brain and can be highly stimulating, preventing us from falling asleep.  The type of light emitted by our cell phones and other mobile devices delays the release of melatonin, which helps us feel relaxed and ready to sleep. Our memory and attention span are affected due to the huge amount of information now available at our fingertips. The brain is concentrated and engaged on an almost constant basis, which affects attention and brain processes. We have become accustomed to being easily entertained, and so can also be more easily distracted with shorter attention spans than before. We spend a lot of time trying to take the perfect photo, which impedes us from enjoying the first-hand experience with our own eyes, undermining happiness in the moment and in real life.


Let your children know that you wish to help them enjoy social media and connectedness in a safe and beneficial way, and that this is motivated by caring about what’s best for them rather than simply engaging in social media monitoring in an overly authoritarian way.

  • Encourage children to engage with social media with greater emotional intelligence, to avoid self-worth becoming tied to social media obsession with the lives and appearance of celebrities, athletes, brands, or an expensive lifestyle.
  • Teach children that they have the power to follow what they choose and like, and to learn what’s important and of value to them rather than letting social media dictate these.
  • Suggest they model good behavior and fill social media walls with inspirational quotes or positive experiences for whoever visits them, to make it fun.
  • Create media-free times around bedtime, meal times, and gatherings with friends, and to agree on sensible boundaries and rules for their wellbeing.
  • Discuss and teach them how to identify and deal with negative and potentially harmful situations if they arise e.g. online harassment or cyber-bullying.  Parents can advise children to avoid posting very personal photos and to stop and think carefully before they post anything.  Emphasize the need for minimizing the sharing of very personal information publicly and the use of a privacy setting.


  • Social currency:  In social media, we are the products, and others are attributing value to whatever is hitting us personally, changing our sense of identity and decreasing our self-worth because it is not selling well; the perfect time to post, and perfect selfie.
  • Online harassment: Questioning our self-worth and safety can sometimes happen either through harsh comments or witnessing harassment on whatever you are sharing, your opinions and your values.
  • Passive engagers: Social media is not allowing face-to-face interaction and this might enhance social anxiety and increase feelings of isolation and loneliness.
  • Self-fulfilling prophecy: A lot of teens pour their hearts out with a lot of deep posts on social media and bring most of their personal details and upbringing styles into the public. This makes them vulnerable and exposed, and can influence their behaviors in real life.


  • It gives a sense of community, connecting with other people or with those who share the same interests, issues and problems. This level of connectedness extends to friends, family members, peers and communities.
  • It may boost self-esteem through sharing hobbies, sports and other interests.
  • Adolescents who communicate more frequently with their parents on social media channels have been found to have better adjustment and fewer emotional problems. Close parent-child social media use is highly recommended and promotes adaptive use of these channels.

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