Social Media’s Impact on Mental Health


Dr. Megan McGinn

Many research studies suggest social media is linked to depression, loneliness and anxiety, but what leads to these problems?

A close-up of a smartphone in a persons hand displaying a list of social media apps

In 2021, the US Surgeon General issued an advisory on the country’s youth mental health crisis, correlating a 40% increase of depression and a 57% increase in suicide rates among youth with an increase in exposure to technology. The advisory urged limiting use of online platforms like social media.

Social media’s effect on the brain

Initially, social media has a reinforcing effect, with excitement of the unknown and “likes” from other users stimulating release of the pleasure neurotransmitter dopamine. However, this positive reinforcement creates an addictive effect that causes people to develop a dependency on social media as they would to a drug. The potential for future likes, popularity, and followers keeps us coming back for more and becomes the foundation of our identities.

How does this create problems?

When people become addicted to social media, they are spending more time in a curated fantasy world than they do actually creating real connection with others. The greatest issues occur when users compare their popularity to others, which can cause feelings of hurt, rejection, and reduced self esteem. The perception of your own life feels lacking when compared to the posts of fantasy lives on social media, and this can lead to clinical depression, hopelessness, and a distorted view of beauty that has led to an increase in eating disorders.

Furthermore, social media has created anxiety over loss and rejection, which our culture has labeled “fear of missing out” or FOMO. People worry that if they do not go on social media, that they will miss out on inside jokes, opportunities to connect, shared experiences, and invitations to socialize. However, social media also highlights interactions and events that a person has been excluded from which greatly increases anxiety and lowers self esteem.

How Can We Address This?

Researchers and psychologists recommend that young people do not get exposed to social media until later in life and that adults limit their usage, or at least be aware that what they see on social media does not reflect reality. In response to the curated fantasy world created on social media, many influencers are now promoting “realness” in terms of body image and emotional vulnerability, which has become more popular and hopefully will continue to grow. The phrase “touch grass” has also become popular – it encourages people to get off their devices and interact with the natural world.

Please know that Radish is here for you if you feel that you or others around you have been negatively impacted by social media. Feel free to schedule an appointment for mental health counseling anytime.

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