Social Media - Mental Health

Tips by Theme or Topic

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  1. Mixed impact of social media
    1. Most Americans spend hours every day on social media, which can have a positive and negative impact on mental health.
  2. Moderate use vs. excessive use
    1. Routine or casual use of social media can increase feelings of connectedness, but increased use can create or worsen mental health challenges and increase the risk of negative outcomes like substance misuse and suicide.
  3. Depict pitfalls of social media through storytelling
    1. Help viewers understand potential mental health pitfalls of social media, and find ways to show characters using social media in a healthy way.

Storytelling Tips 

Portray a Range of Mental Health Experiences 
  • Portray how heavy social media usage can push people toward the negative end of the mental health continuum. 
  • Entertainment storylines can help viewers understand the connection between stressors like social media, and major mental health challenges like depression and anxiety disorders. 
Spotlight Support from Friends and Family Members
  • Show characters complementing social media connections with real-world interactions, and underscore that a large network on social media is not a substitute for in-person relationships
  • Social media can create an illusion of support, because online followers and interactions can feel like real connections. But it’s important to maintain real-world relationships as a protective factor against mental health challenges. 
Depict Effective, Realistic Help-Seeking and Treatment
  • Show characters and cast members who are struggling with the negative impacts of social media reaching out for support. 
  • Therapists can help work through complicated emotions connected to social media like envy, anxiety, and loneliness. 
Highlight the Power of Coping Skills and Self-Care
  • Share stories that demonstrate practical ways people can manage the impact of social media on their mental health.
  • Most people have control over their social media usage and can take steps to reduce negative mental health impacts. 
Represent the Complex Causes of Mental Health Challenges
  • Try to represent the range of factors that can influence distress and hopelessness to help viewers in similar situations understand how to address their own challenges. 
  • Sometimes television shows and movies connect online harassment among teenagers and young adults to emotional distress and suicide. 
  • While social media has been shown to negatively impact mental health and increase risk of suicide, it’s generally not the only factor contributing to emotional challenges. Sometimes pre-existing mental health struggles lead young people to heavy social media usage in the first place. 


There are an estimated 3.8 billion social media users worldwide — that’s about half of the global population. Social media users spend an average of 2 hours and 22 minutes online daily, and that number is significantly higher for teens and young adults. 

Social media can offer positive mental health benefits, like keeping users connected with friends and family, meeting new people, exposure to a broader cross-section of people (which can increase understanding and empathy), and finding individuals with shared interests. But when users become more invested and emotionally involved with social media the result can be a negative impact on mental health. 

Numerous studies have found connections between social media usage and mental health conditions, with some studies concluding that social media can be a factor in suicidal behaviors. Conversely, limiting social media usage to less than 30 minutes daily has been associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety. 

Social media can negatively impact mental health in several ways, including: 

  • Lack of face-to-face interactions
  • Diminished interpersonal skills
  • Fear of missing out (aka FOMO) or envy
  • Cyberbullying or online harassment

Suggestions for preventing negative mental health impacts of social media include: 

  • Limit usage to 30 minutes or less each day.
  • Detox or disconnect when usage is leading to negative feelings or thoughts.
  • Follow accounts that have a positive impact and avoid content that causes stress or anxiety.
  • Limit usage before bed to prevent sleep interference.
  • Expand communication with friends and family beyond social media with more phone, video, and face-to-face interactions.

Facts & Stats

Researchers connect social media usage to a larger trend of declining mental health in America.  
Seven studies found an association between increased social media/internet use and suicide attempts in young people. 
Teens in the United States who spend more than 3 hours a day on social media may be at a heightened risk for mental health issues. 
People who limit social media use to half an hour a day have significantly lower depressive and anxiety symptoms. Occasional users of social media are almost three times less likely to be depressed than heavy users. 
Research has shown that social media can lead users to wrongly conclude that others are leading more fulfilling, exciting and happier lives.
Heavy social media usage can negatively affect quality and quantity of sleep.
There is a growing scientific evidence base to suggest that excessive social media usage may lead to symptoms traditionally associated with substance-related addictions like salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, relapse, and conflict.  
36.5% of teenagers have been cyberbullied, a number that has doubled over the last ten years. Cyberbullying is associated with both negative mental health outcomes and increased suicide risk.  
87% of social media users have witnessed cyberbullying, which can trigger negative emotional responses if a user has personal experience with bullying. 

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more in part 6