June 9, 2023

The Intersection of Social Media and Mental Health

By Madison Jones

Known as the digital generation, Generation Z has experienced the rise of social media platforms during their short, yet eventful lifetimes. Growing up alongside the development of modern technology, the Gen Z population relies on social media for entertainment purposes, social connection and validation in the forms of likes, comments and follows. Social media has played a major role in the fundamental development of Gen Z in terms of their approach to daily life. Social media has provided a platform for self-expression, connectivity and social activism; however, an excessive amount of social media usage has been linked to increased risk for depression, anxiety and loneliness. Among social media platforms, people tend to share the highlights and ‘picture perfect’ aspects of their lives — inaccurately portraying and invalidating normal life experience. As a result, the pressures surrounding social media have led to unhealthy habits that impact users’ mental health and well-being. However, can the concept of ‘casual’ social media relieve the anxiety and unrealistic expectations forced upon users?

Among my social media platforms, I felt a constant pressure to portray a certain identity and snippet of my life to my online audience. Although it’s not completely unauthentic, it’s challenging to accurately display the highs and lows of life in a digital manner. For a long time, I would seek reassurance and validation based on the received amount of likes and comments on an Instagram post. I would spend countless hours and unnecessary stress crafting the ‘picture perfect’ photo(s); however, this mindset proved to negatively impact my self-esteem for a number of reasons. Oftentimes, I found myself comparing my life experiences to others while pondering how their lives appeared so… perfect on social media. 

However, over the last year, the trend of ‘casual instagram’ has inspired people to post more authentic content that’s more representative of their lives. As a result, users have reported feeling less pressured when sharing on social media platforms. In May 2021, Instagram announced that users are now offered the option to hide the number of likes received on any given post. The company decided to provide this feature to users in hopes of “depressurizing people’s experience” on the app. Although this doesn’t completely eliminate all negative feelings, psychological professionals agreed that it may be “a step in the right direction for some people” to avoid overemphasizing forms of social validation. Research shows that people highly invested in external approval and feedback are particularly vulnerable to the powerful effects on mental health and well-being in relation to the social media experience. 

Some may argue that ‘casual instagram’ continues to push the narrative of posting an aesthetic that YOU choose to represent your life via social media. After all, is anything really candid on Instagram? This is where the BeReal app comes into play. With the rise of ‘casual’ social media, the new app BeReal has begun to gain popularity among social media users in order to create a ‘filter-free space.’ The social media app itself is simple: BeReal sends a notification every day at different times urging users to capture a photo within two minutes. The BeReal app supports authenticity and encourages users to not “take it too seriously” as the posted photos disappear after 24 hours. As a user, it’s been refreshing to use a social media app to connect with friends, but more in a low-stakes manner. BeReal prides itself on the fact that users cannot curate their feeds with edited images, but instead provide a full picture of what they’re doing in the exact moment. As social media continues to evolve, I hope that casual social media continues to provide a welcoming space for people to share their lives on the internet — improving mental health in connection to social media pressures and expectations.

5 thoughts on “The Intersection of Social Media and Mental Health

  1. I really liked what you had to say in regards to the toxic environment that social media has created. I also agree a lot with your take on “casual” social media and posting – I think in more recent years you can see the way social media has changed and a big part of that is due to Instagram giving users the hide like option, like you said. With the growth of BeReal too, I think people are starting to learn how to be their natural selves on social media, regardless of the discomfort they may feel when doing it. Casual social media is a step in the right direction for society and I think that you did a really good job at portraying your understanding and hope for that.

  2. I do agree with your opinions. Most of the time when I am using Social Media, I feel stressed. People all look so shiny and cool on their posts. Actually, I’ve met them in the real life. The pictures on social media are totally different from themselves. Sometimes, I even wonder, when I followed this person? Being real is truly the thing we need to do on social media. The philosophy is people have the right to persuing beauty and compliments. What happened has already happened, we cannot change them. The only way to achieve that is to start a new app or a new community for those who love posting real-life moments and sharing happiness in the community. The idea in your post is so cool, I like that!

  3. Hey Madison! This post was super interesting. I think mental health has become such a bigger issue for young people especially due to social media. We see these models who are basically genetically impossible and think that’s what we’re supposed to look like at 15. As I grew up, the trends on social media changed a little, like the “casual insta” you reference. However, I still that can be kind of toxic also because it’s like there’s a new “I don’t care” or “go with the flow” standard that is also hard to achieve for some people.

  4. Madison,
    I enjoyed reading this blog. I have always been interested in and researched how social media can affect users mental health. Generation Z is the first generation to grow up with social media. I liked the point you made when you said that you feel constantly pressured to portray a certain identity because I often have the same experience. I also hope that casual social media continues to provide a welcoming space because I will stop overanalyzing my social media presence.

  5. I think this is a great post. The acknowledgement of toxicity on some platforms is something not talked about enough. The hiding of likes is something that I didn’t think would impact my time on social, but it has in such a positive way. I wonder if other platforms will follow suit…

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