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Social Media and Mental Health

Welcome to our Mood-E Blog

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June, 2021        

Written by, Cassie Cipolla 
Synergy eTherapy Summer 2021 Intern

Cassie graduated from the University of Kansas in 2020 with a Bachelor’s of General Studies in Psychology and a minor in Applied Behavioral Sciences. She plans to pursue a doctoral degree (PsyD) in Clinical Psychology and is specifically interested in a neuropsychology concentration.

Cassie previously worked as a Permanency Family Support Worker for KVC Health Systems in Kansas where she worked alongside case managers, therapists, and other mental health professionals to provide direct services to children and families within the child welfare system. 



Social Media

As social media continues to grow in popularity, with more and more flooding new and existing platforms, research shows that young adults aged 16-24 are spending an average of three hours per day on social media

For most teens and young adults a social media presence is simply a part of life. With many kids having a social media presence by the age of 12, a substantial amount of time is being spent on these platforms from a very young age. This brings up questions and concerns regarding how this habit is impacting one’s mental health and makes developing a healthy relationship with social media essential.

Before diving into the harmful impacts of social media, it’s important to acknowledge that there are many benefits as well.


Engaging in social media platforms provides a variety of opportunities for connection, networking, education and expression such as: 

  • Helping you stay connected to peers, friends, and family 
  • Helping you meet new people, communities, and networks. 
  • Raising awareness on societal issues and current events 
  • Promoting and growing businesses through large and diverse audiences
  • Providing an outlet for creativity and self-expression 

With that said, research into the impact of social media has established alarming connections between social media usage and rising mental health struggles. 

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that young adults, age 18-25, have the highest incidence of mental illness out of any adult age group. This is the same age group found to spend the most time using social media (shocking, I know). 

How is social media harming your mental health? 

Here are some of the negative experiences promoted by social media that can lead to outcomes such as anxiety, depression, lonliness, feelings of inadequecy and insecurity, suicidal thoughts, and even suicide

Comparison / unrealistic expectations. People are constantly, and I mean constantly, posting pictures of their life. Their social life, their vacations, their partners, their kids, their belongings, you name it. Pull  up instagram, facebook, or snapchat and within seconds you’re bombarded with five pictures of Sarah’s birthday party last weekend and ten stories of John’s recent trip to California. It’s no wonder people are comparing their lives to that of others. How could you not when that’s what you’re constantly seeing? 

These constant and endless comparisons have led to generations of people obsessing over others lives while feeling inadequate about their own. Social media has become a place where people feel the need to prove themselves to their followers, leading to substantial value being placed in appearances. How someone appears to look, what someone appears to have, who someone appears to know, or what someone appears to do. This fixation on appearance has led to a phenomenon of people doctoring their images and presenting false realities to the world in hopes of appearing better, smarter, prettier, wealthier, more popular, etc. And while it’s no new information that what we see on social media is not always an accurate portrayal of one’s life, our minds make comparisons and judgements so quickly and subconsciously that simply being aware of that fact is not enough to avoid the feelings of insecurity, inadequacy, loneliness, and anxiety that are being produced by these false realities. 

Cyberbullying. With soooo many people actively using social media, it has created environments of criticism, judgement, and harassment from peers, loved ones, and even complete strangers. Recent surveys have found that cyberbullying occurs most often on Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook, three of the most popular platforms for young adults. According to Pew Research Center approximately 59% of teens in the U.S. have experienced some form of bullying or harassment online. Considering cyberbullying leads to an array of detrimental effects such as social anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, self-harm, disordered eating, and low self-esteem, it’s no wonder that so many young adults are presenting with mental illnesses. 

Fear of missing out (FOMO). Have you ever gone on Instagram or Snapchat and found that some of your friends were out-and-about together when you weren’t there? Or seen pictures of people at an event you couldn’t make it to? I think we can all relate to having FOMO at one point or another. Social media sites such as Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook often leave people feeling as if they are missing out on things or that others are having more fun than them. This not only tends to cause even more social media use, but can also lead to lower self-esteem, feelings of isolation and loneliness, anxiety, and depression. 

So, what do I do now? 


If you’re anything like me, simply not using social media is just not an option. And eliminating social media use altogether shouldn’t be the goal. Social media is a huge part of today’s world and being an active social media user at one point or another is essentially inevitable. There are, however, many ways to encourage healthy relationships with social media platforms and use them in a way that allows you to reap more of the benefits and avoid some of the costs.

Ways to Create a Healthier Relationship with Social Media 


Disable social media notifications. Social media apps are designed to get you to spend as much time as possible on their platform (it’s how they make their money). Many apps are even programmed to send out a notification if you haven’t been on the app in a while to remind you, making engagement as simple as the click of a button. By disabling your notifications for social media apps, you gain more control over when and how often you get on your social media account(s). This is a good example of “out of sight, out of mind” and can substantially decrease the amount of times you go to refresh your feed(s). 

Monitor how much time you spend on social media. People often don’t even realize how much time they are spending on social media. I mentioned above that young adults spend an average of three hours a day on social media. To put that into perspective, if you were to spend three hours a day on social media for a year, you will have spent a total of 45.6 days of that year on social media. Say this continues over the course of 10 years and you will have spent well over a year of that on social media (456 days to be exact). Some ways that you can monitor and reduce how much time you spend on social media include: 

  • Paying attention to your weekly screen time report and daily averages for time spent on specific apps. 
  • Set app usage limits for your social media apps. 
  • Schedule daily “downtime” in your screen time settings. 
  • Take social media breaks. Pick one day a week to “log off”. 
  • Set reasonable weekly goals to lower your screen time. Start small and be consistent. Quick and drastic change is often the most temporary.

Unfollow, unfollow, unfollow. Take some time to go through and unfollow accounts that don’t serve a purpose. This could be an account you’re connected to for toxic reasons (such as an ex that you’re trying to keep tabs on) or an account that causes feelings of insecurity or inadequacy. Reducing the number of accounts you follow will reduce the amount of time you spend scrolling (as there will simply be less to scroll through), and will also provide you with healthier content while you do scroll. 

Follow educational and motivational accounts. Find accounts on topics that interest you, that you’re passionate about, and that promote mental and physical well-being and fill your feed with them. Positivity can be just as easily encountered as toxicity, it’s just a matter of what you’re choosing to feed your mind. 

Find new hobbies. A common reason for mindless scrolling  through social media feeds is out of pure boredom. Find activities that you enjoy to fill your time instead. This could be meeting a  friend for lunch, reading a book, participating in some form of exercise, playing a sport, visiting a relative, volunteering, etc. 

Social media isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. 


Focus on creating a healthy relationship with social media that allows you to use the platform to connect, network, learn, and grow. If you are struggling with screen time and balancing the negative impact that social media can have on mental health, please reach out for support. 


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