Socially Mediated: A Critical Review of Social Media and Mental Health

In the past 20 years, epidemiologists have noticed a troublesome trend in the mental health of adolescents...

I’d like to take a second to bring you back 300,000 years ago to the savannahs of africa. This was when the first modern humans appeared on the scene (“Homo Sapiens”, 2021). Evolutionarily speaking, our genetic makeup is almost identical, however, our lifestyles could not be more different. While we are able to function, more or less, in modern society, our bodies and our minds were not designed with the 21st century in mind. Overconsumption, sedentary lifestyles, and extensive use of technology do not meld well with our body’s internal barometers and many of our physical and mental ailments can be traced back to this! In light of this, I thought it might be interesting to evaluate how these advancements impact our mental health.

In the past 20 years, epidemiologists have noticed a troublesome trend in the mental health of adolescents. During this time we have seen very significant increases in the rates of adolescent depression and anxiety. Many people were quick to notice that these trends seemed to follow the upward trending usage of social media by this age group. Today, social media, and its relationship to depression and anxiety, has become a hot-button topic (Haidt & Allen, 2020). 

A significant amount of research has been conducted on the relationship between the use of social media and the quality of mental health. The results are… mixed. There are a wealth of correlational studies and experiments that have found a direct relationship between the amount of time spent on social media and depressive symptoms (Haidt & Allen, 2020; Keles et al., 2020; Kim, 2017; Rasmussen et al., 2020). However, are also a decent number of studies that suggest that there is no correlation or causation between these two variables (Berryman et al., 2017; Naslund et al., 2020; Coyne et al., 2020).

Personally, I believe that the incongruency in results may suggest that social media can have both negative and positive effects on one’s mental health. One the one hand, social media usage can create feelings of exclusion and isolation, keeping one’s focus on all of the activities others are doing. On the other hand, social media can also help to socially connect people and can offer mental health resources to those using it (Haidt & Allen, 2020). All of this said, there is more evidence out there to suggest that social media’s impact, as a whole, is negative.

If you want my unsolicited advice, I would recommend you embrace your inner scientists and test it out yourself. Keep a journal of your emotional well-being during a time period where you use social media and during a time where you don’t use it and let that guide your decisions moving forward!


  • Homo sapiens. (2021, January 22). The Smithsonian Institution’s Human Origins Program. nba
  • Haidt, J., & Allen, N. (2020). Scrutinizing the effects of digital technology on mental health. Nature, 578(7794), 226–227.
  • Kim. (2017). The impact of online social networking on adolescent psychological well-being (WB): a population-level analysis of Korean school-aged children. International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, 22(3), 364–376.
  • Rasmussen, E. E., Punyanunt-Carter, N., LaFreniere, J. R., Norman, M. S., & Kimball, T. G. (2020). The serially mediated relationship between emerging adults’ social media use and mental well-being. Computers in Human Behavior, 102, 206–213.
  • Keles, McCrae, N., & Grealish, A. (2020). A systematic review: the influence of social media on depression, anxiety and psychological distress in adolescents. International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, 25(1), 79–93.
  • Berryman, C., Ferguson, C. J., & Negy, C. (2017). Social Media Use and Mental Health among Young Adults. Psychiatric Quarterly, 89(2), 307–314.
  • Naslund, J. A., Bondre, A., Torous, J., & Aschbrenner, K. A. (2020). Social Media and Mental Health: Benefits, Risks, and Opportunities for Research and Practice. Journal of Technology in Behavioral Science, 5(3), 245–257.
  • Coyne, S. M., Rogers, A. A., Zurcher, J. D., Stockdale, L., & Booth, M. (2020). Does time spent using social media impact mental health?: An eight year longitudinal study. Computers in Human Behavior, 104, 106160.

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Molly Ringwald

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