Most of us have felt some form of frustration or stress from engaging in social media. Several recent studies, however, reveal that, overall, online interactions do not benefit mental health. If fact, some forms of social media are proving to significantly reduce mental and physical health.

Getting to Know You

There have been countless studies showing that our health thrives when we have positive relationships with others. A wealth of research has presented findings that personal social interactions are beneficial to physical and mental health. In many cases, it’s been concluded that the benefits of social well-being and social support can actually extend life expectancy.

This research, however, originates from analyzing face-to-face, real world interactions. The mental health effects from interactions between humans online and through electronics haven’t been studied quite thoroughly yet. A report recently published in Harvard Business Review, however, details findings from a study based on social interaction and social media; interestingly, and sadly, the results depict fairly devastating effects on mental health.

Facing Facebook

A study was conducted monitoring the mental health of those who used Facebook over a period of approximately two years. According to Facebook, its average user spends almost an hour on the site daily. Other surveys report that many social media users check their phones first thing in the morning upon waking. The perception, from a users standpoint, is that he/she is engaging in worthy social interaction.
The analysis compared the mental health effects of over 5,000 people who used Facebook for social interaction with those who participated in real world social activity (one on one or in groups.) In three separate waves of research, levels of mental health, physical health, and self-reported life satisfaction were measured.

The researchers concluded, “that while real-world social networks were positively associated with overall well-being, the use of Facebook was negatively associated with overall well-being.” Additionally, a decrease in mental health could be predicted over a year’s time using this platform as a means to social interaction. They also reported, “that both liking others’ content and clicking links significantly predicted a subsequent reduction in self-reported physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction.”

Social Isolation

Just as numerous studies have been conducted on human social interactions, so have those on social isolation. The absence of social networks in one’s life can be detrimental to positive mental health. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “Social isolation of otherwise healthy, well-functioning individuals eventually results in psychological and physical disintegration, and even death.”

A study published earlier this year in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine revealed that heavy social media users were more likely to feel isolated. Of the 1,800 participants in the research, those who checked their social apps more often or spend more time on social media were three times more likely to have increased social isolation (than those who used social media less frequently.)

As more research is conducted, it appears that mental health may be comprised with increased use of electronic social interaction. The results of the recent studies suggest that real world interaction is far healthier, overall. So, let’s unplug for a little while and go out and make or meet a friend. We owe it to our good health!

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American Journal of Preventive Medicine, March 2017