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This September, documents leaked by former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen revealed that the company knows its family of social media apps has a variety of negative effects on users.
Despite Facebook trying to hide its harmful impact, a new OnlineTherapy.com survey shows that many users are well aware of how social media negatively affects their mental health.
In October, we surveyed 1,250 U.S. adults about the negative mental health side effects they’ve experienced from using social media.
Fifty-eight percent of Americans say social media has a negative impact on their mental health.
Twenty-five percent don’t experience negative mental health effects from social media use, while 10% don’t know if social media has a negative impact on their mental health.
Seven percent of Americans do not use social media.
According to Clinical Counselor Danny Taylor, social media can absolutely negatively affect mental health.
“Social media can be a wonderful tool for connection and expression,” Taylor says. “However, many people engaged on social media platforms can get lost looking for validation and meaningful connection. They can also become filled with anxiety and self-doubt from comparison or FOMO (fear of missing out). Often, the longer we spend time on social media, the more preoccupied we become with the emotional disruption these mediums can produce.
The most common negative mental health impact of social media use is anxiety (64%).
More than half of social media users who are adversely affected by apps report depression (56%), dissatisfaction with life (52%), fear of missing out (52%), and body image issues (51%).
Our data revealed that the more time a user spends on social media, the more likely they are to experience adverse mental health impacts.
For example, 64% of users who spend four hours or more per day on social media experience depression, compared to 44% of users who are on the platforms three hours or less per day.
Despite the fact that social media is meant to connect people, 57% of users who are on the apps for more than four hours daily report feeling lonely. Only 35% of individuals who spend three hours or less per day on social media experience loneliness as a result of app use.
Taylor notes, “Many studies have established a link between social media use and an increased risk for mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, isolation, and self-harm. However, even when experiencing negative outcomes from social media, users will return in the hopes for a positive encounter. The initial brief release of dopamine in and of itself is a reward that attracts continued use.”
One of the biggest challenges Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other apps must contend with is handling misinformation spread on their platforms. The effects of misinformation and disinformation are complex and far-reaching, and they include harming the mental health of users.
Seventy-one percent of those who experience mental health issues from social media blame misinformation and disinformation. Other causes include the perception that others’ lives are perfect (60%), cyberbullying (59%), and unrealistic body standards (57%).
Given the recent revelations about Facebook’s operations and internal research, it may not be surprising that when asked to identify which platforms are most harmful to their mental health, 74% of respondents selected Facebook.
Instagram comes in second as the most damaging app for mental health (66%), followed by TikTok (51%), Twitter (47%), and YouTube (45%).
Taylor offers advice for those who continue to use social media. He says, “Use social media tools intentionally, rather than passively. Monitor your use and assess how it is impacting you. Set some ground rules for your use, including time limits and taking breaks. If you find your mental health is seriously struggling, reach out to a loved one or professional for support. Don’t struggle alone! Help is here for you.”
Our data revealed that, while the majority of Americans feel that using social media erodes their mental health, some groups are experiencing these negative impacts more than others.
Sixty-five percent of men say using social media negatively affects their mental health, compared to 49% of women.
Among different age groups, 65% of Americans ages 25-44 say using social media has harmed their mental health. Fifty-one percent of 45-54 year-olds, 49% of 18-24 year-olds, and 35% of people 55 and older report mental health challenges as a result of social media use.
Seventy-three percent of Asians say social media has had a negative impact on their mental health, followed by 62% of whites, 43% of Hispanics/Latinos, and 40% of Blacks.
Although much attention has focused on how social media negatively impacts body image for adolescent and teen girls, our survey reveals that body image issues are occurring among adults users at similar rates for women and men.
Fifty-two percent of men who have experienced negative mental health effects from social media cite body image issues as a challenge they’ve dealt with, as do 49% of women.
Taylor provides additional insight stating, “Social media amplifies the cultural pressure of a strong, masculine male identity. The pressure produced by social media can cause men to develop unhealthy relationships with food and their body, along with mental health struggles. Additionally, men who feel pressure to express a dominant, toxic masculine image on social media are more likely to engage in negative social media behavior, which is shown to increase symptoms of depression, anxiety, and aggression.”
Rates of anxiety caused by social media are also similar for both genders (64% of men and 62% of women).
However, men experience depression and loneliness as a result of social media use at higher rates than women. Sixty-one percent of men, and 50% of women, say they are or have been depressed as a result of social media use. Additionally, 54% of men have experienced loneliness based on social media use, compared to 41% of women.
There is also divergence as to what parts of social media men and women consider most harmful.
Sixty-four percent of men say cyberbullying affects their mental health, compared to 51% of women.
Fifty-seven percent of men cite uncivil discourse as a cause of mental distress, as do 43% of women.
Men are also more likely than women to say misinformation and disinformation negatively impacts their mental health, by a rate of 75% to 64%.
Across all age groups, anxiety is the number one negative mental health issue triggered by social media.
However, younger users are experiencing other negative mental health impacts at higher rates than older users.
Among users whose mental health suffers as a result of social media use, 59% of 18-44 year-olds experience depression, compared to 44% of users 45 and older.
Fifty-five percent of 18-44 year-olds experience body image issues, an issue only 33% of users 45 and older have dealt with. Fifty-one percent of users 18-44 report feeling lonely as a result of social media use, an experience shared by 39% of users 45 and older.
When broken down by age groups, 75% of social media users ages 25-44 who are negatively impacted by social media cite misinformation and disinformation as the most harmful element of the apps.
Comparatively, 63% of users 45 and older, and 52% of users ages 18-24 point to misinformation and disinformation as a cause of their mental distress.
Social media users in the 25-54 age range are also most likely to be troubled by the perception that other people’s lives are perfect. Sixty-three percent of these users selected this answer, compared to 44% of 18-24 year-olds, and 40% of people 55 and older.
For whites, Asians, and Hispanics/Latinos, misinformation and disinformation is the number one cause of mental harm on social media platforms. However, for Black social media users, unrealistic body standards are the most damaging elements on these apps.
White social media users are more likely than Blacks, Asians, and Hispanics/Latinos to experience mental distress caused by the perception that others’ lives are perfect.
Anxiety is the most common negative side effect of social media use for whites (66%), Blacks (55%), and Asians (54%). However, for Hispanic/Latino users, body image issues are more prevalent (61%).
Fifty-six percent of whites and 53% of Hispanic/Latinos report being dissatisfied with life as a result of social media use, compared to 36% of Blacks and 32% of Asians.
All data found within this report derives from a survey commissioned by OnlineTherapy.com and conducted online by survey platform Pollfish. In total, 1,250 American adults were surveyed. This survey was conducted on October 7, 2021. All respondents were asked to answer all questions truthfully and to the best of their abilities. For full survey data, please email Julia Morrissey at [email protected].