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SOCIAL MEDIA USAGE AND THE MENTAL HEALTH OF ADOLESCENTS

Connection Between Social Media Usage and


the Mental Health of Teenagers
Henna Datta
Independent Research
5/1/2018

Advisor: Dr. Bradley Sachs


Instructor: E. Leila Chawkat
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Abstract

Social Media is a major part of today’s world. Technology has advanced to the point where there
are hundreds of different apps and websites that people can use to interact with other people. Whether this
interaction is face-to-face on a video messaging app, is through pictures posted online, or online
messaging, communication has never been so convenient and quick. However, there is a downside to this
new form of social networking, especially among impressionable teenagers who take advantage of such
apps. This paper will discuss how the different aspects of social media effect the mental health of
teenagers, specifically on whether they develop depression or anxiety disorders. There are clear benefits
and there are also clear negative impacts. The goal of this study is to determine whether the benefits
outweigh the negative impacts, and to carry out a successful survey of a group of high school students.
The benefits of these results could be that they could help to convince society that social media usage is
something to be encouraged or that it is something to be discouraged.
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Introduction

Humans are extraordinary in their ability to adapt and evolve to brand new situations.

Through time, they have created a plethora of types of technology that further expands their

knowledge of the world. Fairly recently, a new category of technology has been established:

cybertechnology. Soon after, social networking became a part of cybertechnology and soon

developed into a prominent aspect of the lives of people all over the world. Social media is an

example of this, being the main way that people communicate online. There are a variety of

different applications that can be considered social networking. Since the phenomenon of social

media is a recent one to have been introduced to society, a large percentage of users are

teenagers and adolescents who grew up as more online platforms became available. This new

generation has also seemed to experience more mental health issues. There are many suggestions

from experts on why this seems to have become the case, but one prominent proposal is that

hitting puberty during a time when and social media have become such a major influence has

created a generation that is exposed to more violence that can negatively affect a developing

teenager. For example, in the year 2018, it is easy to go online and find out information about the

world. It is difficult to hide from the negativity that is portrayed in the media because it is

broadcasted from all these different outlets. Although this is beneficial because it keeps people

informed, sometimes the more positive stories become overshadowed by the tragic ones, which

can negatively affect a child’s mental health. Social Media can have a detrimental influence on a

child’s emotional development, depending on other factors in that child’s life. Although results

have been inconclusive as to whether social media is more beneficial or harmful, social media

can contribute significantly to the development of mental illnesses such as depression and

anxiety and therefore needs to be addressed as an issue in society.


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Review of Literature

Background on Depression and Anxiety

To determine if the connection between social media and mental illnesses such as

depression and anxiety is positive or negative, one must completely understand the different

symptoms, treatments, and causes of the illness. There are a variety of different symptoms that

may appear in those with clinical depression. For a condition to officially be considered

depression, a patient must experience them “for most of the day, nearly every day, for at least

two weeks” (National Institute of Mental Health). In the case of anxiety disorders, those who

suffer most often show excessive anxiety or worry for months at a time and face anxiety related

symptoms such as restlessness or feeling on edge, irritability, muscle tension, difficulty

controlling worrying, and sleep problems. Like clinical depression, generalized anxiety effects

patient’s lives in a way that makes it difficult for them to function. (National Institute of Mental

Health)

The major symptoms of Clinical Depression include sadness, hopelessness, irritability,

feelings of guilt, loss of interest in hobbies, difficulty eating or sleeping, and thoughts of suicide.

(National Institute of Mental Health) These symptoms are serious, and impact patients’ lives in a

way that inhibits their ability to perform everyday activities. There are three main types of

anxiety that will be described in this paper. The first is Panic Disorder. Panic Disorder is a type

of anxiety in which a patient has sudden panic attacks often. This is when a patient experiences

periods of intense fear, shaking, accelerated heart rate, choking, and intense worrying (National

Institute of Mental Health). The other major type of anxiety disorders is Social Anxiety Disorder.

Social Anxiety disorder is one of the most well-known of the different types of Anxiety, and is

the fear of being embarrassed, judged, rejected, or fearful of offending others. The most common
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symptoms include self-consciousness, fear of judgement, worrying for excessive periods of

times, blushing, sweating, trembling, and having a hard time keeping and making friends.

(National Institute of Mental Health). The final type of anxiety disorder to be described in this

paper is generalized Anxiety disorder. In this paper the three anxiety disorders described will be

generalized under the category of anxiety disorders.

The causes of these two illnesses must be closely examined because they can help to

determine whether social media is one significant contributing factor to the development of these

disorders. There are three main risk factors for Clinical Depression; personal or family history,

major life changes, and certain physical illnesses or medications. (National Institute of Mental

Health). Some possible causes could be growing up with excess stimuli relating to stress,

pressure from family and school and managing social media-identities. (Shrobsdorff). Social

identity is a major aspect of social media because it gives impressionable adolescents the ability

to access everyone else’s information at any time. Therefore, it gives teenagers the ability to

shape their own portrayal of themselves because they can filter any posts sent out to their peers.

It gives them control, which can positively affect a person who suffers from depression. Social

media may be able to create a model version of themselves to look up to, and thereby boost their

self-esteem. Anxiety can be caused by genetic and environmental factors, usually relating to

interaction, a risk factors for anxiety disorders. Specific factors include “shyness, or behavioral

inhibition, in childhood, being female, having few economic resources, being divorced or

widowed [in adults], stressful live events, and anxiety disorders in close biological relatives.”

(National Institute of Mental Health). In relation to social media, loneliness is a large factor in

why teens develop anxiety, and these feelings can be brought on by a patient using social media

to view their peers enjoying companionship and happiness that the sufferer feels as if they lack
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(Davey). On the other hand, treatments for anxiety disorder include cognitive therapy and

exposure therapy. Those who suffer from anxiety often attend self-help groups or support groups

while also implementing their own stress-management techniques. Social media can help to

boost the amount of exposure that patients have with other people and can also enhance the

support groups by making them more convenient.

History of Social Media

Over the past two decades, social media has grown in popularity among teenagers and

adults alike. Social media first became popular in the early 2000’s, and since then the population

of young people who use it has grown exponentially. According to most of the studies done by

professionals, around 80% of teenagers use social media (Lenhart). Some popular social media

sites include twitter, Facebook, snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr. Additionally, a large

majority of students (75%) have access to cell phones and, thereby, some form of instant

messaging or texting (Lenhart). Since its creation, social media has had an impact on “everything

from politics to public relations, from telecommunications to theater. It has fundamentally

shifted the way many people experience everyday life, including friendship, shopping, and job

searching.” (Cooper). Friendships are vital in maintaining a healthy mental state, and the

expansion of possible friends that is provided through social media can help those who suffer

from mental illness a way to make new friends to support them, especially if those patients are

feeling isolated.

Technology Dependence

Currently, a debate is continuing regarding whether humans are technically over-reliant

on technology. Some believe that humans are growing a dependence because children are

growing up playing video games inside, which is completely different in comparison to those
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children’s parents, who played outside all day (Viola). Others argue that technology is just a new

way for humans to evolve, and that adaptation takes time. As time passes, children and teenagers

will become used to technology and it will blend in with everyday life (Rodricks). Despite its

downfalls regarding the health of the user, any new technology is an advancement in society, and

therefore inherently improves and worsens the lives of people living in it. Social media has

provided children and teenagers with a way to learn and connect with others online, however, it

has also created an easy way to find answers to questions that should be personally realized

(Rodricks). These questions include anything from homework answers to questions about life. If

teenagers have preconceived ideas about everything, then they will have too many outside forces

acting upon their opinions, and it will be more difficult for them to make decisions based on their

own experiences rather than others.

Benefits of Social Media

Social media has plenty of benefits for teenagers. It offers those who already suffer from

mental illness a way to connect with others about their experiences. It also creates an outlet for

professionals to communicate with larger groups of patients at a time. (Moorhead) It also creates

a way for those who suffer from anxiety to make friends, because there is such an expansive

population of people on the internet, therefore there are all kinds of personalities. This way, a

person with anxiety can become more comfortable with a peer before meeting them in person.

Social media can also serve as a form of exposure therapy because it gives them an opportunity

to learn better ways to communicate and to make situations less stressful, because they will have

had practice. Social media can sometimes provide validation to those with low-self-esteem and

can help boost self-esteem through likes and comments. This virtual support can be given at any

time of day and can be re-viewed as many times as necessary. It can also help a teenager with
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depression reach out online to others who also suffer. It serves to connect people, and for those

with mental illness, connection can be a very important part of their recovery. Social media can

be used to spread awareness about different mental illnesses and can keep mentally ill teens from

feeling alone in their struggles. It can also help to raise money for the cause and fund more

research so that better treatments can be developed.

Negative Impacts of Social Media

Bullying can cause teens to feel overwhelmed and stressed, which puts them at risk for

mental illnesses. Cyberbullying is a form of bullying that is online, so that it is difficult for the

victim to escape the bully. (O’Keeffe) Although one benefit of social media is that support can

be given at any time of the day, hate can also be spread at any time of day. In the past, a child

would need to run home or hide to evade the taunts of a bully. Another aspect of social media is

that it makes it difficult for teens to avoid images of celebrities and models. These images can

have a harmful effect on a teenager’s self-esteem and sometimes set unrealistic body standards.

(Schrobsdorff) Society’s pressure on appearance becomes even more evident online, because it is

difficult to avoid viewing new articles or social media posts about an ideal body. Social media

also makes it easier for people to feel “FOMO”, also known as the fear of missing out. People

are free to check online whenever to see others having fun, and the feeling of exclusion can make

a person feel lonely and rejected. (Tysiac) It creates feelings of isolation, which is a major

contributing factor to the development of anxiety and depression. Social Media helps to

encourage negative news to spread very quickly. Before social media, information was usually

spread by word of mouth, by newspapers, magazines, or television news. In the year 2018, it is

easy to find news online. As soon as an event takes place, anyone with a mobile device can be

able to access a news article or online discussion about it. However, news articles that are
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emphasized by news websites and TV channels are often about war, tragedy, or politics, which

can cause a person to feel hopeless (Schrobsdorff).

Data Collection

Rationale

An online survey was used as the method to gather data regarding the research question

“What are the effects of social media usage on the development of depression and anxiety in

teenagers, and do the positive effects outweigh the negative effects?” This methodology was

chosen to answer the research question in a population of a specified age range of individuals

with similar socioeconomic demographics. Previous studies on this topic of different

populations did not show consistent results and were often lacking in sufficient information

possibly due to the complexity of the research questions and difficulties with interpretations. The

study requires a mix of qualitative and quantitative data. Statistics about the age groups’ usage of

social media and the amount of time they spend on social media were needed, along with

specific questions about experiences that they have while they are online.

Data

Survey:

Hello! My name is Henna Datta and I am a sophomore at Glenelg! I'm currently enrolled in the

Independent Research Program, where I have been studying the effects of social media on the

mental health of adolescents. Thank you very much in advance for taking my survey!

1) How old are you?


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13 14 15 16 17 18+

2) What is your gender?

Female

Male

Other:

3) Which of the following forms of social media do you use? (Please check all that apply)

iMessage

Instagram

Twitter

Facebook

Snapchat

Online Forums

Tumblr

I don’t have any social media (Skip to Question 10)

Other:

4) How long have you been involved in the world of social media?

Less than one year

1 Year

2 Years

3 Years

4 Years
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5 Years

6 Years

7 Years

8+ Years

5) Have you ever witnessed harassment online?

Yes

No

Not sure

6) Have you ever been harassed online?

Yes

No

Not Sure

7) How does the fear of missing out or FOMO affect you?

(Written Response)

8) How many hours a day do you spend on social media?

1-2

2-3

3-4

4-5

6+

9) On a scale from one to ten, how compelled do you generally feel to check your social media?
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10) Does social media overall make you feel better or worse about yourself, and why?

11) Do you think social media, or the lack of having social media, majorly affects your life?

How?

12) Have you or has someone that you know ever suffered from depression or anxiety?

Yes

No

Not Sure

13) If you ever had concerns about your mental health, whom would you ask for help? (Please

select all that apply.)

Parents

Teachers

Counselors

Internet

Doctor

Other:____________

14) Additional Comments:


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Survey Responses:
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Analysis

The survey was sent to roughly1,200 students, and out of that number, 118 students

responded. That is equivalent to about 10% of the student population at Glenelg High School,

representing a reasonable amount of data for analysis. Out of the 118 responses, only 88 were

analyzed due to some of the surveys being incomplete and some of the results being nonsensical.

Unsurprisingly, 95% of the students surveyed said that they had some form of social media that

they use on a regular basis. The question of the percentages of students with social media has

been determined by other researchers before, and it has been shown that, in general, most

students between the age of 13-18 use social media. Question 12 asked students, “Have you or

anyone that you know ever suffered from depression or anxiety?” The results showed that a

majority of the students answered in the positive. This statistic showed how prevalent depression

and anxiety have become. Even when adolescents do not suffer from them, they can still be
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indirectly affected by it by knowing someone who does. Although not very surprising, it does

provide some insight into the teenage population’s exposure to depression and anxiety

problems. One surprising statistic showed that, although a majority of the students had

witnessed harassment online, a much smaller percentage claimed to have had experienced

harassment personally. The ninth question on the survey asked students how compelled they

generally felt to check their social media every day. The data chart shows a slightly left-skewed

bell curve. This means that, up until a certain point, more students claimed to be increasingly

compelled to check social media. Once the x-axis hit a value of 6, the number of students who

felt more compelled decreased as the x-axis values increased. Overall the results revealed that

more students felt that social media improved their lives in more ways than it negatively affected

their lives.

The main issue with this particular study was that the sample size was smaller than

expected and the generalizability to the overall population of adolescents in the United States is

limited. There are many other different factors that contribute to errors in the results. One of

these errors might be that the sample was not randomly selected by the researcher. Instead, the

survey was sent out to the entire population of students at Glenelg High School via a website

called Canvas, which is a way for teachers, students, and parents to remain informed about the

student’s progress. Only those students who check Canvas regularly would have been able to

access the survey. This might cause slight bias in the answers received, because all the students

who were able to respond had a device that they could respond from, which increases the

chances of them having any forms of social media. To resolve this issue, in the future, it would

be more reasonable to send out paper surveys to randomly selected students from each grade

level at the high school. The number of students in each grade would also need to be consistent,
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to keep the data from becoming too unreliable. This way, the response rate can be brought up to

20%, the students can be randomly chosen, and there will be less sampling error. There may also

be unknown characteristics of the students that made them more likely or less likely to respond

to surveys. For example, it is possible that individuals who are depressed or anxious may not

want to complete an online survey, skewing the results. Students who had been bullied may not

want to include that information for fear that there may be a chance that responses can be traced

back to them.

Conclusions

The information gathered from this survey will help to better explain the connection

between social media and mental health. A majority of students claim that social media improves

their lives, which shows that, if social media is improved in its ability to protect its users from

harassment and negative role models, social media can be a useful tool for improving the mental

health of those who suffer from anxiety or depression. This is especially true because a majority

of students know someone who has suffered from depression or anxiety. If they know someone

with the condition, then it will be easy for social media to be used by friends and family of those

who suffer from mental illness. One reassuring result from this survey is that a significant

number of students stated that they would ask parents or other trusted adults for help with mental

health concerns. Hopefully, the results from this study will emphasize to parents, teachers and

counselors that they need to be aware of mental issues that adolescents face and that it is

important to be prepared with some knowledge on how to address the issues and seek the proper

support.

Conclusion
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With the steady increase in reported cases of depression and anxiety along with the growing

population of social media users, it is important to understand the connection between the two. In

some cases, it has been proved that, although there is no connection to the amount of usage of

social media, there is a significant connection between level of social media addiction and

mental illnesses. Mental illness has been an issue in the back of people’s minds for years, and

one of the reasons why it is not reported as often as it occurs is because it is sometimes

considered shameful to show mental illness. By utilizing social media, it may be possible to help

those who feel ashamed of their mental illness and to provide them with support. Social media

can also be used to help raise more awareness. Using social media as a positive tool, it could be

possible to improve the lives of many who suffer from mental illness.
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