Regular social media use worsens mental health – report

Using social media on a daily basis for extended periods can contribute to psychological unease, research from Aalto University School of Business reveals.

Yanqing Lin, Doctoral Researcher at Aalto University School of Business, with colleagues Shaoxiong Fu from Nanjing Agricultural University and Xun Zhou from the University of York, analysed survey information on 6,093 undergraduates at a highly-regarded Chinese university.

Their findings show that the immediate benefits of using social media are increased perceived social support and life satisfaction. However, they warn that consistent regular use risks worsening or developing mental health conditions and “nomophobia” (no mobile phone phobia).

According to the researchers, social media use cultivates addictive symptoms, allowing loneliness, depression, and stress to build up. In turn, nomophobia causes people to spend more time on social media.

If a person has sufficient real-life social support, this can reduce the likelihood of them using social media platforms heavily, whereas people who get most of their perceived support online are at much higher risk, they find.

But they also explain that psychological symptoms of loneliness and depression don’t necessarily lead to increased use of social media. One possible reason, Lin explains, is because these traits are enduring and often develop in childhood, making them difficult to process through relationships conducted purely via social media sites.

“Social media is a double-edged sword,” she said. “Users need to pay close attention to the purpose of social media use. Although gaining perceived social support can reduce psychological unease in the short-term, the danger of upset to your wellbeing and of developing nomophobia shouldn’t be ignored. Practitioners who work with psychological disorders should recognise social media use as a potentially crucial emerging risk factor that might worsen mental health conditions,” she says.

The results of the study were originally published in the journal ‘Internet Research’.