What research suggests to date about the effects of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram on your mental health.


The story is part of the BBC Future’s “Best of 2018” collection. Find out more about our top picks.


3 billion users, or around 40 percent of the world’s population, utilize social media. And we’re spending on average two hours a day sharing with, liking, tweeting and updating our profiles on these platforms, according to a few studies. It’s about half one million Tweets as well as Snapchat images shared each minute.


Social media plays so much of our lives, can we be at risk of compromising our mental well-being and health as well in our leisure time? What evidence does it suggest?


  • Facebook reacts to claims of mental wellness claims
  • It’s time to reconsider the way we use social media? A brief introduction to the #LikeMinded season.


Social media is recent to the public, definitive studies aren’t available. The research that exists is mostly based on self-reporting which is often faulty and most studies are focused on Facebook. But, this is an area that is rapidly growing in research, and some clues are beginning to surface. BBC Future reviewed the findings of some of the research to date:



People make use of social media to express their opinions on everything from politics to customer service However, the downside of it is that our feeds can often feel like unending streams of pressure. The year 2015 saw researchers from Pew Research Center in Washington DC Pew Research Center based in Washington DC sought to find out whether social media creates additional stress, rather than alleviates.


In the study of over 1,800 people who participated, women were more stressed than males. Twitter was identified as an “significant contributing factor” as it increased their awareness of the other’s stress.


However, Twitter also served as a way to cope which meant that the more women who used it more, the less stressed were. This effect was not observed in men, who researchers found to have less of a connection to social media. Overall, they concluded that use of social media was associated with “modestly lesser stress levels” for stress.



Researchers from 2014 from Austria discovered that users had lower moods after having used Facebook during 20 mins as compared to people who simply browsing the web. It was suggested that people were feeling this way due to the fact that they perceived Facebook as a waste of time.


A bad or good mood can also be shared between individuals using social networks, as per scientists from the University of California, who examined emotions in nearly 1 billion status updates shared by over 100 million Facebook users between 2009 and 2012.


Weather-related issues caused a rise in negative posts by 11% The researchers also discovered that one negative post written by someone living in the city that was rainy influenced 1.3 negative posts made by people who live in cities that are dry. The good news is that posts with happy messages have a greater influence on the other posts as each one sparked 1.75 more posts that were happy. The extent to which a happy post can translate into a significant positive mood boost, however it remains to be seen.



Researchers have studied the general anxiety triggered by social media. The anxiety is characterised by a feeling of restlessness, anxiety, as well as difficulty getting sleep and staying focused. An article published by the journal Computers and Human Behaviour found that those who reported using 7 or more of the social media sites were three times more likely than users of zero to two platforms to suffer from excessive levels for general anxiety-related symptoms.


It’s still unclear whether or how social media can trigger anxiety. Researchers from Babes-Bolyai University in Romania reviewed previous research on the connection of social anxiety with media in 2016 and concluded that their findings were mixed. They concluded that further research is required.

Social media can mimic many of the advantages of play and games and can be an attractive opportunity for lure (Credit: Getty Images)



Although some studies have shown an association between depression and use of social media but there is a growing research about how social media might actually serve as an instrument to benefit society.


Two research studies involving over 700 students showed depression-related symptoms like low mood as well as feelings of despair and despair, were related with the level of interactions online. Researchers discovered more depressive symptoms in those who had more negative experiences.


A similar study carried out in 2016 with 1,700 participants discovered a threefold increase in anxiety and depression among those who use the most websites for social networking. The reasons included, according to the study, cyberbullying, having a negative perception of the lives of others and feeling as if the time spent using social media is not worth it.


But, as BBC Future will explore this month in our #LikeMinded Season researchers are also studying ways using social media to detect depression, which can assist people to receive treatment earlier. Researchers at Microsoft conducted a survey of 476 people and analyzed their Twitter profiles to determine depressive language and manner, engagement, and emotion. They then developed a classification system that is able to detect depression before it develops symptoms in seven of 10 instances.


Researchers at Harvard as well as Vermont Universities analysed 166 people’s Instagram pictures to develop an identical tool in the past with the same result.



Humans were used to spending night in darkness but nowadays, we’re bombarded by artificial light all day and evening. Researchers have discovered that this could hinder the body’s production hormone melatonin that aids in sleep. The blue lighting, that is produced from laptop and smartphone screens, is thought to be the main culprit. So when you lay on your back at night , and you check Facebook and Twitter and Twitter, you’re heading for sleepless nights.


In the past year, researchers of The University of Pittsburgh asked 1,700 young people between the ages of 18 and 30 about their social media use and their sleeping habits. They discovered a connection between social media and insomnia and concluded that blue light could have a part in. The amount of time they spent online and not the time they spending on social media was a more reliable indicator of sleep disturbance and suggested “an excessive checking” according to the study’s authors.


Researchers suggest that this might be due to physical arousal prior to sleep and also the bright light of our gadgets can disrupt the circadian rhythms. They couldn’t determine whether the use of social media can cause disturbances in sleep or if people who are sleepy are more active online.

One of the most dangerous times to utilize social media is before going to bed (Credit: Getty Images)


In spite of the assertions made by a handful of researchers that twittering might be more difficult to stop than alcohol or cigarettes but the issue of addiction to social media isn’t mentioned in the latest diagnostic guideline for mental health issues.


However, the world of social media is growing more rapidly than scientists are able to be able to keep pace with. which is why many groups are working to research compulsive behavior that is associated with its use . For instance scientists of the Netherlands have created their own scale for identifying potential addiction.


If social media addiction is a real thing, it would be an internet addiction. It is classified as a disorder. In the year 2011, Daria Kuss, and Mark Griffiths from Nottingham Trent University in the UK examined 43 previous studies that dealt with the issue and concluded that digital addiction could be considered a health condition and “may” require treatment by a professional. They discovered that excessive use was linked to problems with relationships in addition to lower academic performance and less involvement in offline communities. They also they found that people who might be at risk of developing a social media addiction are people who drink or drugs, those who are highly social or those who use social media to make up for having fewer relationships to real life.



magazines for women as well as their use of thin or Photoshopped model models have been condemned for causing anxiety about self-esteem among women of the ages. However, now social media with its filters and lighting, as well as its clever angles, is becoming a major concern for some of the campaigning groups and charitable organizations.


Social media platforms can make more than half of users feel insecure according to a study of 1500 people from the disability charity Scope and the majority of 18- to 34-year-olds feel that it makes them feel ugly.


A 2016 study conducted by researchers from Penn State University suggested that taking selfies of other people’s lowers self-esteem because people look at themselves in comparison to pictures of people who look the best. The research conducted by University of Strathclyde, Ohio University and University of Strathclyde, Ohio University and University of Iowa also found that women feel negatively compared to photos of women.

Selfies can have negatives for the person who is viewing (Credit: Getty Images)

However, it’s not just selfies that can be used to undermine self-esteem. A study of more than 1,000 Swedish Facebook users discovered that women who spend more time on Facebook felt less content and confident. The study concluded that “When Facebook users compare their personal lives to others’ seemingly more successful careers and happier relationships, they might be feeling that their lives aren’t as prosperous when compared to others.”


A small study suggested that a look at your profile, and not the profiles of others, could boost your ego. Researchers from Cornell University in New York placed 63 students in different groups. Some were seated with an image of themselves on an electronic screen, for example some were seated on their personal Facebook page.


Facebook was a positive influence on self-esteem when compared with other actions that improve self-awareness. Mirrors and pictures, as researchers said can make us feel like we’re comparing ourselves with social norms and checking out our Facebook profiles could increase self-esteem since it’s more manageable to control how we’re portrayed to others.



In a 2013 study researchers sent 79 people texts every day for 14 days, asking what they thought about their feelings and how often they’d spent on Facebook since the last time they texted. The more time they were on Facebook and the more unhappy they were in the future and the more happiness decreased as time passed.


Other research has also revealed that for a subset of individuals, social media may aid in improving their wellbeing. Researchers in marketing Jonah Berger and Eva Buechel discovered that people with a mental illness tend to be more likely to share information about their moods and can aid them in receiving help and bounce back from bad experiences.


The overall effects of social media on well-being aren’t clear as per an study published in the year 2000 of researchers in the Netherlands. They did however suggest that there was more evidence to support the effect on a specific category of people: social media have a greater detrimental effect on the health of those who are socially and socially isolated.

In some instances social media can improve the quality of life (Credit: Getty Images)


If you’ve ever spoken to a person who’s taken out their smartphone to browse Instagram You may be wondering what social media has done to relationships.


The simple presence of a cell phone could disrupt our conversations in particular when we’re discussing something significant, according to the findings of a small study. Researchers from The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships asked 34 strangers talking for 10 minutes about an event that occurred for them in the last few days. The pair of them sat in separate booths. Half carried a cellphone at the high table.


People with phones in their the eye were less optimistic in recollecting their conversation later they experienced less meaningful conversations, and felt less connected to their loved ones than others who had an unopened notebook on the table.


Relationships between lovers aren’t exempt from jealousy also. Researchers from the University of Guelph in Canada conducted a survey of 300 young people in 2009 regarding any feelings of feelings of jealousy they experienced using Facebook asking questions like “How likely are you to be jealous after the person you love has added a person from the same gender What are your chances of becoming jealous?.


Women spent greater time online than males, and felt an increase in jealousy when they were on Facebook. Researchers concluded that they “felt that the Facebook environment caused these feelings , and raised worries regarding what they are getting out of the relationships”.

In a survey of 1,800 respondents females reported feeling more stressed out by social media than males. (Credit: Getty Images)


In a study that involved 600 people, about one third of them said that social media caused them to experience negative emotions – mostly the feeling of anger and the primary reason. This was caused by looking at their lives in comparison to other people as well as the primary cause was people’s travel pictures. The feeling of envy triggered to create an “envy spiral” that is where people react in a way of expressing envy, making their profiles fuller similar material that made them jealous initially.


But, it’s not always an unproductive emotion, but it may cause us to more productive according to research conducted by researchers of Michigan University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. They asked 380 college students to take a look at “envy-eliciting” images and posts on Facebook and Twitter which included posts about purchasing expensive items travel, getting engaged and even traveling. However, the kind of envy that the researchers discovered can be described as “benign envy” and tends to cause someone to push themselves to the limit.



An article published by The American Journal of Preventive Medicine this year, conducted a survey of 7,000 19- 32-year-olds. The study found that those who spent more time using social networks had twice the likelihood to experience being socially isolated. This may include a lack feeling of belonging to a group as well as a lack of engagement with others. satisfying relationships.


Utilizing social media, researchers suggested, can hinder face-to face interactions and make people feel disengaged.


“Exposure to these highly idealized depictions of the lives of peers can trigger feelings of envy as well as the false impression that people live happier and more successful lives, which can cause social anxiety.”



It’s obvious that in many fields it’s not clear enough yet to draw any solid conclusions. However the evidence points in to a certain direction social media can affect people in different ways, depending on the pre-existing condition and personal characteristics.


Similar to gambling, food and other temptations in our times an excessive amount of use by some people is likely to be harmful. However it is not right to claim that social media is an all-encompassing bad thing, since it has numerous advantages in our everyday lives.


We’ll explore this issue more in the coming month as we write videos and articles in our series #LikeMinded. We’ll also be offering solutions to assist us all to lead a healthier, happier digitally.


Join the 800,000+ future fans by following us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.


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