Social media is 25 years old. Let’s do a mental health check

Twenty-five years ago, the era of social media began with the launch of sixdegrees.com, a website that allowed users to create personalized profiles. At the time, many of us were unaware of what was happening, but that moment marked a significant turning point in how we would communicate and consume information, and for many, subsequently affect their mental health.

Whether its original creators liked it or not, they were giving people a new tool that could be extremely productive or, conversely, disastrously harmful. And it takes us a while as humans to figure out how to best use it. As psychiatrists, we have seen the pros and cons of social media. We know it has great potential to do good, but we also know that, like most things, it should be used in moderation.

Today, social media is ubiquitous and an integral part of our daily lives. Even healthcare leaders like me have accounts, and we spend a lot of our days in this online world. Whether we’re advancing our medical missions or looking at photos of our families, it’s important to be aware of the positive and negative influence that using social media can have on our mental health.

According to the American Psychiatric Association’s monthly Healthy Minds survey, Americans’ views on social media are mixed. However, a third of Americans say social media does more harm to their mental health than good, and nearly half said social media has harmed society as a whole.

Social media is great for engaging in conversations on virtually any topic and can help individuals feel a sense of connection. Finding support from someone who has gone through similar experiences can be a big boost for someone who is feeling lonely or struggling with mental illness or substance use.

Despite the benefits, social media has some very pronounced downsides that can affect mental health, especially after prolonged use. Online speech often becomes toxic, which can trigger feelings of depression and anxiety. Excessive use of social media has been linked to sleep deprivation, which can lead to depression, memory loss, and poor performance at work or school. It’s easy to fall into an online echo chamber, which can serve to reinforce bad feelings and bad habits. Misinformation is also prevalent on social media and, when left unchecked, can have serious repercussions in the real world. Conversations can heat up quickly on social media, leading to vitriol and invective instead of good faith debate.

Here are some mental health tips for all of us as we navigate this world:

  • Stay positive and always remember that there is a real person behind the profile or nickname when engaging in online debates. Think about your words and avoid engaging in toxic talk.
  • Be aware of how what you see on social media affects your mood. If what you see makes you envious, stressed or depressed, take a break and take the opportunity to exercise, which will benefit your physical health and your mood.
  • Remember that the online world is no substitute for real life. Although online friendships can be very rewarding, it’s also important to maintain real connections with friends, family and neighbors. A real connection to your community can help refocus you and support your mental health.

Some of us are old enough to remember when television raised great fears of social decline. While there have been definite effects television has had on American life, some positive and some negative, ultimately as consumers we have had to adapt to technology and set rules for ourselves. themselves regarding its use. Social media is more complicated than that, and its purveyors profit from our involvement, sometimes to the detriment of discourse. And social media companies must take responsibility for any harm caused by their services.

Over the next 25 years, psychiatrists and the mental health community must be leaders as we as a society grapple with how new technologies interact with and affect our daily lives, health and well-being. to be. I believe that if we practice mindfulness and moderation – and lead by example where we disagree without being disagreeable – we can harness the potential of social media to be a force for good.

Saul Levin is CEO and Medical Director of the American Psychiatric Association. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.

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