Social Media Harmful Effects on Youth Mental Health

Reasons Why Young People Are in The Middle of a Mental Health Crises

Analysts are correct in their declarations suggesting that young people are in the middle of a

mental health

crisis due to the rise of social media. Social media is currently an important part of youthful existence providing possible benefits and threats to mental health. Nonetheless, there has been a significant amount of emphasis on demonstrating negative impact of social media that creates fear and challenges the mental wellbeing of youth. The constant use of online social media can lead to many negative or even dangerous outcomes for adolescents (O’Reilly, et al., 2018). Analysts argue the risks of social media can cause stress, depression, low empathy and suicidal thoughts.

There is an important element in a young person’s life and that is seeking acceptance by others. Negative experiences with online activities can be destructive to relationships and lead to serious depression. The exposure to social media can cause abusive behaviours such as acts of bullying that negatively impacts on youth mental health. Cyberbullying can trigger overwhelming psychosocial outcomes including depression, abuse, anxiety, severe isolation, and tragically suicide (O’Keefe, Clarke-Pearson, & Council on Communications, 2011).

Adolescents are vulnerable to ‘internet addiction’ as the attraction to the social media platform can be highly addictive. There are various influences that cause social media addiction that impacts mental health. Research studies test the role of personality characteristics and levels of self-esteem in adolescents and analyse their level of addictive tendencies toward social media use (Wilson, Fornasier & White, 2010). Analysts are precise with their assertions by placing the culpability to the rise of social media having harmful effects on youth mental health through components of depression, cyberbullying and internet addiction that have been instrumental in the reasoning behind why young people less than twenty-five years of age are in the middle of a mental health crisis.


First, it is important to understand the risks of youth using social media and how depression develops when young people spend a great deal of time on social media. Although social media has benefits that allow teens to accomplish online tasks such as staying connected with friends and family, making new friends, sharing pictures, and exchanging ideas, there could be risks of peer-to-peer communication, inappropriate content, and lack of understanding of online privacy issues that can be detrimental to youth mental health(O’Keefe, Clarke-Pearson, & Council on Communications, 2011). Depression is associated with time consumed on social media and one of the reasons why communication may lead to the wrong impression of a person’s physical and personality traits. This may lead to incorrect conclusions regarding physical appearance, educational level, intelligence, moral integrity, as well as many other characteristics of online friends (Pantic, 2014). Various studies reveal that increase use of the internet harms social relationships and if young people social circle declines, it leads to them having increasing feelings of depression and loneliness. A decrease in bonding increases loneliness, elicits feelings of envy, and a distorted belief that others lead happier or more successful lives (Lin et al., 2016). Further, it was suggested by commentators that computer use may have negative effects on children’s social development (Pantic, 2014). In fact, the relationship between the use of Facebook and life fulfillment in young adults reveals that social media depression occurs when users has fewer friends and the number of likes on a profile post. Low self-esteem is associated with the pathogenesis of numerous mental illnesses, including depression (Pantic, 2014). Seeking acceptance of one’s self in a young person’s quality of life is an important element in developing overall mental health.

Abusive Behaviours

The next reason why the rise of social media has harmful effects on youth mental health is because of the increasing abusive behaviours such as cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is a new form of violence through social media and the main damage of cyberbullying is to harm the victim’s reputation (Bottino, Regina, Correia & Ribeiro). Recent studies on cyberbullying claim that social media and social networking applications to be the main platform and mechanism for people to engage in negative behaviour (O’Reilly, et al., 2018).The data analysis from young adolescents describes that if they engage in social media and share with others different facets of their life such as pictures, can result in bullying. Young people actively blame social media for facilitating this aspect of adolescent life and describe as common to adolescent living, which in turn can create a sense of isolation and negatively impact one’s emotional wellbeing (O’Reilly, et al., 2018). In addition, adolescents reported how trolling is evident on social media and that there is a general acceptance of this aggressive behaviour. T

rolling is related to cyberbullying where it is the methodical act of making offensive controversial comments on various social media platforms. The intent of trolling is to provoke an emotional reaction and to engage in a fight or argument. Adolescents are being attacked regularly to trolling and cyberbullying, and the consequences for mental health are undeniably severe (O’Reilly, et al., 2018). Furthermore, the rise of social media victimizes and discriminates youth within LGBTQ resulting in greater cyberbullying by non-LGBTQ youth. LGBTQ youth are two to three times more likely to have been targets of cyberbullying because of their sexual orientation or gender identity (McConnell, Clifford, Korpak, Philips & Birkett 2017).

Cyberbullying that victimizes LGBTQ youth impacts their psychological health and these negative experiences causes some LGBTQ youth to conceal their sexual orientation and gender identity on social media for fear of being persecuted. On the other hand, social media provides social support for LGBTQ youth to manage their sexual identities and personal relationships, and gives them the social network of support they seek. However, study findings of victimization, cyberbullying, and offering of online support were all associated with increased psychological distress (McConnell, Clifford, Korpak, Philips & Birkett 2017). Overall, the rise of social media is associated with cyberbullying such as abuse, victimization and even discrimination. The experiences of cyberbullying are linked to both LGBTQ youth and non-LGBTQ youth which can in turn, relate to social and behavioural problems that have detrimental effects contributing to the overall mental health crisis.

Impact on Self-esteem

Several factors play into why adolescents compulsive use of social media is suggested to have negative consequences that generate emotion, mental health, and performance issues. It is suggested that social media addiction contributes lower self-esteem playing a role in causing a decrease in mental health and academic performance (Hou, Xiong, Jiang, Song, & Wang 2019). Most importantly, it is essential to understand what causes young adults’ excessive use of social media and how it impacts their health and social life. Some believe internet addiction is a distinct psychiatric condition that is closely associated with depression (Lin et al., 2016). Studies investigating the association of social media and mental health issues conclude that it causes stress, anxiety, insomnia and depression. However, frequent social media usage does not imply internet addiction and does not always have negative implication on one’s mental health compared to social media addicted individuals that have uncontrollable and compulsive behaviours with online social networking (Hou, Xiong, Jiang, Song, & Wang 2019). More often, the primary reason for this behavioural social media addiction is to ensure they can build and protect relationships.

FOMO and Addiction

Findings in one research show participants’ reasons for using social media were lack of friends, social necessity of social media, feeling of fulfillment, fear of missing out (FOMO), intertwining of social media and daily life (Aksoy, 2018). In another study conducted by O’Reilly et al., 2018, adolescents describe the extreme use of social media as an online drug that is addictive and mainly reference others having addictive tendencies rather than themselves.

Young people believe that social media can be addictive as substances that is problematic as it takes time away from their families leading to bad side effects (O’Reilly, et al., 2018). Personality characteristics of social media addicts include shyness, insecurity, moodiness, and general distress. Severe users of the internet are associated with impulsiveness, discomfort when criticized, time management issues, and psychological issues such as anxiety (Kumar & Mondal, 2018). However, some adolescents recognize their own feelings of dependence in expressions of compulsive and excessive usage. They claim the primary problematic outcome is limited sleep which in turn can affect performance in school and work. O’Reilly et al. study reveals adolescents themselves have concerns about the negative risks social media brings to mental health and wellbeing. It seems that their views are based through the experiences of others or media reports making them feel a sense of panic and fear towards online interactions, when such social media use could provide a rich source of mental health support (O’Reilly, et al., 2018).  This addictive behaviour has significant impact on one’s wellbeing that may lead to a mental health dilemma.


Undoubtedly, the overall harmful effects with much of the responsibility attributed to the rise of social media on youth mental health can be severely mediated by depression, cyberbullying, and addiction that influences their wellbeing.. Some commentators recognize the positive effects of young people’s association with social media and that it gives them a social supporting network. However, there is an overwhelming consensus that social media is a dangerous platform for adolescents as there are too many risks they may face that can affect their mental health (O’Reilly, et al., 2018). Through multiple studies there is the common theme that the rising use of social media increases adolescent depression.

There are various factors and social media influences that causes young people to develop depression. Envious feelings of others living happier lives is one explanation. “These envious feelings may lead to a sense of self-inferiority and depression over time” (Lin et al., 2016). In addition, increase feelings of depression progresses if their social network lists of contacts or social bonding declines. Individuals posting a wrong impression of a person’s physical and personality traits on social media can be harmful and consequently affect the mental health of young adults. Moreover, it is possible that increased social media exposure may increase the risk of cyberbullying, which may also increase feelings of depression (Lin et al., 2016). The impact of cyberbullying in its violent form is concerning to young people’s mental health and wellbeing. Over time, repeated online tormenting can be a traumatic experience for an adolescent producing depression, stress, social anxiety, loneliness, low self-esteem and sadly, suicidal thoughts.

Trolling can be the most destructive method of cyberbullying. Offensive comments made by trolls on social media has serious consequences with young people such as depression, anxiety and insecurity. It is alarming that this abusive behaviour is escalating on social media. Harassing a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation increases psychological distress particularly among the LGBTQ community. Social media addiction is mainly associated with young people’s obsession to acquire and preserve relationships. Having this sense of desperation for online acceptance releases undesirable personality characteristics that directly influences their mental health.

Psychologists continue to explore the rise of social media dependency and the psychosocial crisis  on youth mental health. Furthermore, there is a need to  encourage young people to use social media in a positive manner that is beneficial for their wellbeing and promote awareness of any negative effects of social media usage and work towards prevention.


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