Social Media and Mental Health for Young Adults

By: Maya Stephens

Social media continues to have an ever-growing presence in our day-to-day lives, especially among youth and teens. In 2018, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter were the most popular social media sites among those 18-24 years.[1]With few signs pointing to the trend of social media’s popularity slowing down or stopping, people are wondering how this cultural phenomenon will affect the main population of millennials.

Another phenomenon affecting this generation of youth and young adults is the prevalence of severe mental disorders at earlier and earlier ages. In 2017, 25.8% of individuals 18-25 suffered from a mental illness.[2]Major depressive episodes were reported in 13.1% of young adults, which is a 2.2% increase from 2016, and the percentage continues to climb.[3]Increases are also seen in the prevalence of suicidal thoughts and substance abuse.[4]Many are searching for answers to why these saddening trends are occurring. With social media’s recent popularity among youth and young adults, there is debate about whether social media may be playing a part in the deteriorating mental wellness of America’s young people.

Scientists and researchers have found so far that social media does appear to have some benefits, but there are also many negative effects on mental health. On the positive side, social media can help improve communication skills for many young people. Media platforms also provide spaces for people to connect easily, making the process of finding friend groups and people with common interests much more efficient, especially for those with social fears. Another documented benefit of instant social connectivity is that well-adjusted children often create positive feedback loops online via supportive or uplifting comments to friends. This is often a result of well-adjusted children “putting their best foot forward” in their online presence.[5]These advantages may help improve one’s sense of belonging. The option of anonymity also helps many people feel more comfortable making personal connections in a digital space.

On the flip side, social media has also been shown to correlate with some negative mental health consequences. Facebook has had such a powerful social media impact that one scientist coined the term Facebook Depression describing it as, “depression that develops when teens and preteens spend time on social media sites and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression due to the intensity of the online world.[6]” Social comparison is a key factor found to mediate depressive symptoms and media usage. Difficult to escape in the social media universe, comparison to others by means of their posts can create backlash and lower one’s self-esteem.[7]

Despite social media’s ability to connect millions of people together at once, social isolation is still a prevalent side-effect of considerable social media usage. One study found that those who visited social media platforms at least 58 times per week were three times more likely to feel socially isolated compared to those who used social media fewer than 9 times per week.[8]Sadly, suicidal ideation has also been linked to extended social media usage. A researcher at San Diego State University found that teens who spend 5 or more hours a day online were 71% more likely to have at least one risk factor for suicide compared to teens who spent only 1 hour a day online.[9]

Negative consequences of social media are relatively controllable. This involves being aware of and limiting one’s presence and time spent on social media as research has shown that well-being significantly improves among people who limit use to 10 minutes per platform, averaging about 30 minutes of total social media use daily. Declines in depressive symptoms are also seen when practicing the same pattern of use.[10]  If limiting social media use appears too difficult, one can also decrease negative mental health effects by engaging in positive, online communities that promote well-being and create supportive environments.

One advantage of social media not mentioned is that mental health professionals are now using it to reach a greater number of people in need! Check outwww.CHCNRVand CHCNRV’s platform on Twitter and Facebook or namicommunicateon Instagram for access to mental health and self-care resources. If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thought, there is help available. Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

[1]Smith A, Anderson M. Social Media Use in 2018. Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech.

[2]“Mental Illness.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,

[3]Bose, Jonaki. Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. 2017, p. 124.


[5]O’Keefe G, Clarke-Pearson K, “Clinical Report-The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families.” Pediatrics. 2011 April

[6]O’Keefe G, Clarke-Pearson K, “Clinical Report-The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families.” Pediatrics. 2011 April

[7]Mai-Ly N. Steers, Robert E. Wickham, and Linda K. Acitelli (2014). Seeing Everyone Else’s Highlight Reels: How Facebook Usage is Linked to Depressive Symptoms. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology: Vol. 33, No. 8, pp. 701-731.

[8]Primack BA, Shensi A, Sedan JE, et al. Social Media Use and Perceived Social Isolation Among Young Adults in the U.S. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2017.

[9]Twenge JM, Joiner TE, Rogers ML, Martin GN. Increases in Depressive Symptoms, Suicide-Related Outcomes, and Suicide Rates Among U.S. Adolescents After 2010 and Links to Increased New Media Screen Time. Clinical Psychological Science. 2017

[10]No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression

Melissa G. Hunt, Rachel Marx, Courtney Lipson, and Jordyn Young. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 2018 37, 10, 751-768