Need to vent? Turn to real-life support, not social media

May 9, 2021

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Need to vent? Turn to real-life support, not social media

Social media may make it easier for people to engage online, but it does not provide a lot of the benefits of real-life human interactions, according to a new study.

What the researchers say: “Problematic social media use has been associated with depression, anxiety and social isolation, and having a good social support system helps insulate people from negative mental health,” said the lead author. “We wanted to compare the differences between real-life support and support provided over social media to see if the support provided over social media could have beneficial effects.”

The research was published in the journal Addictive Behaviors.

While social media support did not negatively impact mental health, it did not positively affect it either.

Only real-life social support was linked to better overall mental health,” the author said. “Typical interactions over social media are limited. We theorize that they don’t allow for more substantial connection, which may be needed to provide the type of support that protects against negative mental health.”

The researchers conducted a survey of 403 university students to identify how problematic their social media use was and their degree of social support in real-life and on social media. By also using the PROMIS, or Patient-reported Outcomes Measurement Information System, scales for measuring depression, anxiety and social isolation, the researchers could see how the students’ social media use and social support related to their mental health.

Problematic social media use is not a recognized addictive disorder, but there are similarities in the symptoms of someone with a substance use disorder and a person displaying excessive social media use. Examples include preoccupation with social media and signs of withdrawal, such as irritability, when prevented from using social media.

“It appears that the more excessive one’s social media use is, the less social support that person gets in real life, which leads to poor mental health,” the researchers said. They encourage people who are using too much social media to reach out to people in real life for social support.

So, what? So many studies have come to more or less the same conclusion. For example, one published a few years ago (and reported in TR) said that touch—especially female touch—was a powerful healing agent in terms of both physical and mental illness. We are relationship-centered animals and to us that relationship can only be one of physical proximity.

Like the researchers behind this study, I think it’s time to recognize problematic social media use as a disorder since a plethora of studies have now shown the harm it does.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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