Mental Health + Social Media

Blog post by Colin Hung.

Over the past seven years, Bell Canada’s Let’s Talk initiative has put the spotlight on mental health in Canada. Started in 2010, the Let’s Talk program has generated over $86 Million dollars for mental health research, support lines and charities. January 31st is #BellLetsTalk day and I thought it would be nice for the #hcldr community to talk about mental health on the weekly chat.

Bell Canada is one of Canada’s major telecommunications companies. They offer phone, television and other communication services to Canadians across the country. On #BellLetsTalk day, the company donates 5¢ for every:

  • Text sent by a Bell Canada customer
  • Mobile and long distance call made by a Bell Canada customer
  • Every tweet using #BellLetsTalk
  • Use the Bell Let’s Talk Facebook frame
  • Send a snap using the Bell Let’s Talk filter on Snapchat
  • Watch the Bell Let’s Talk Day video on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat

On the Let’s Talk website you will find the four key pillars of their mental health action strategy:

  1. Anti-stigma – drive the national conversation to help reduce the stigma attached to mental illness
  2. Care & Access – support grassroots agencies, local hospitals and universities to help provide Canadians with support services when and where they need it
  3. Research – investing in best-in-class research programs with the potential to have a transformative impact on mental health
  4. Workplace Health – adopting the voluntary Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace and encouraging greater corporate engagement across Canada

As an active user of social media, I heartily applaud using the medium in such a positive manner. It is, however, a little ironic that social media is a cornerstone of the Let’s Talk campaign. Over the years, many articles have been written about the negative impact social media can have on mental health. Below is just a small sample from recent years:

Even Facebook admitted that social media can have a negative impact. In a blog post late last year, two Facebook researchers, David Ginsberg and Moira Burke stated “In general, when people spend a lot of time passively consuming information – reading but not interacting with people – they report feeling worse afterward.” Or put another way, the impact of social media tends to be negative if it is consumed like television.

In that same post, Ginsberg and Burke stated that when social media is used to connect and interact with other people in supportive communities then it had a generally positive effect.

A study we conducted with Robert Kraut at Carnegie Mellon University found that people who sent or received more messages, comments and Timeline posts reported improvements in social support, depression and loneliness. The positive effects were even stronger when people talked with their close friends online. Simply broadcasting status updates wasn’t enough; people had to interact one-on-one with others in their network. Other peer-reviewed longitudinal research and experiments have found similar positive benefits between well-being and active engagement on Facebook.

In recent years, mental health experts have taken a more balanced view of social media (see references below). They agree that it has more to do with how it is used rather than anything inherent in social media itself that determines how it impacts an individual’s mental health.

I see social media the same way I see any technology, it is neither good nor bad. It is simply a tool. It’s how we use it and what content is delivered through it that matters. Consider the telephone and television. Both were transformative technologies and when they were first introduced there were concerns raised about their impact on mental health (and not just of people using both devices, but those who didn’t have either…I’m going to bet there was some serious FOMO happening back then).

Over the holidays, a friend of mine who does not have any social media accounts recently asked me whether I felt the medium was a net benefit to society or a net drain. I immediately answered with net benefit. The example I used, of course, was HCLDR – how a vibrant online community has led to real-world connections and collaborations.

My friend’s next question, however, gave me pause: “Do you think social media overall has had a negative or positive impact on mental health?”

As a frequent tweeter and blogger, I view social media very positively. I have met many amazing people through social media and learn new things every day through my various social feeds. I have discovered so many incredible patient communities that offer support and advice to people suffering from all sorts of diseases and chronic conditions. I’ve seen first-hand the power that social-media has to bring people who have similar passions (or beefs) together.

Having said that, there is also undoubtedly a dark side to social media. Cyber-bullying has led to numerous suicides and caused depression in teens. Social-media addiction (though technically not a clinical diagnosis) is something that many feel their loved ones suffer from. And let’s not forget all the racist, sexist, anti-religious anonymous posts that flood the feeds daily.

I was actually unable to answer my friend’s second question. I wasn’t sure whether social media as a whole was positive or negative when it came to mental health.

Please join me on Tuesday January 30th at 8:30pm ET (for your local time click here) for the weekly #hcldr tweetchat where we will be discussing mental health + social media:

  • T1 Have you ever felt the need to take a break from social media? Did your use of social media change after you returned?
  • T2 How would you respond if a friend who doesn’t use social media asked whether it is good or bad for mental health?
  • T3 Share an example of how social media has had a positive impact on mental health
  • T4 Now that social media is more ingrained and accepted, do we need to more or less concerned about its impact on mental health?

[Disclosure: Neither myself nor Joe Babaian have been paid by Bell Canada. In addition, neither of us are Bell Canada customers.]

Check out these past HCLDR blogs on mental health:

References

“It’s Complicated: Teens, Social Media, and Mental Health”, Erin Walsh MA and David Walsh MA, Psychology Today, 28 September 2017, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/smart-parenting-smarter-kids/201709/its-complicated-teens-social-media-and-mental-health, accessed 27 January 2018

“The future of mental health care: peer-to-peer support and social media”, Naslund et al, Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences, April 2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4830464/, accessed 27 January 2018

“Hard Questions: Is Spending Time on Social Media Bad for Us?”, David Ginsberg, Facebook, 15 December 2017, https://newsroom.fb.com/news/2017/12/hard-questions-is-spending-time-on-social-media-bad-for-us/, accessed 27 January 2018

“Facebook Admits Social Media Can Harm Your Mental Health”, David Morris, Fortune, 16 December 2017, http://fortune.com/2017/12/16/facebook-admits-social-media-can-harm-your-mental-health/, accessed 27 January 2018

“Social media bad for the minds of young people, right? Maybe not”, Natalie Jacewicz, USA Today, 7 October 2017, https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2017/10/07/social-media-bad-minds-young-people-right-maybe-not/738820001/, accessed 27 January 2018

“Is social media bad for you? The evidence and the unknowns”, Jessica Brown, BBC, 5 January 2018, http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20180104-is-social-media-bad-for-you-the-evidence-and-the-unknowns, accessed 27 January 2018

“Social Media and Mental Health”, Michele Leno, The National Psycologist, 24 September 2017, http://nationalpsychologist.com/2017/09/social-media-and-mental-health/104050.html, accessed 27 January 2018

“6 Ways Social Media Affects Our Mental Health”, Alice G Walton, Forbes, 30 June 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2017/06/30/a-run-down-of-social-medias-effects-on-our-mental-health/#69cbda8d2e5a, accessed 27 January 2018

“How bad is social media for your mental health?”, The Week, 20 December 2017, http://www.theweek.co.uk/checked-out/90557/is-social-media-bad-for-your-mental-health, accessed 27 January 2018

“How social media affects mental health”, Jeanne Lee, The Johns Hopkins News-Letter, 2 December 2017, http://www.jhunewsletter.com/2017/12/02/how-social-media-affects-mental-health/, accessed 27 January 2018

“Why Instagram Is the Worst Social Media for Mental Health”, Amanda Macmillan, Time, 25 May 2017, http://time.com/4793331/instagram-social-media-mental-health/, accessed 27 January 2018

“Jealous of Your Facebook Friends? Why Social Media Makes Us Bitter”, Alice G Walton, Forbes, 22 January 2013, https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2013/01/22/jealous-of-your-facebook-friends-why-social-media-makes-us-bitter/#2e4d8d6535cc, accessed 27 January 2018

“Bullying, Cyberbullying & Suicide Statistics”, Megan Meier Foundation, https://www.meganmeierfoundation.org/statistics.html, accessed 27 January 2018

“A Teen’s Perspective on Social Media”, Sameer Hinduja, Cyberbullying Research Center, 10 November 2017, https://cyberbullying.org/teen-perspective-social-media, accessed 27 January 2018

Image Credit

Social Media Marketing Mix – Blogtrepreneur https://flic.kr/p/JYFT48

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