Depression is especially prevalent among college students. According to research by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health, roughly 1 in 5 students have either anxiety or depression. BYU–Hawaii students and faculty said they believe social media is one of the culprits of depression.
According to a study done by the Pew Research Center, there has been a 78 percent increase in the usage of social media among college students since 2005. Facebook has gone from being a small startup in social networking to a website used every day. Social media has changed the way people see the world and how they interact on a daily basis.
Mason Allred, an assistant professor in Communications, said, “Social media is alluring because it offers dopamine hits and accelerated feedback. The desire to simply look and follow others is just as strong as the desire to put a manufactured version of yourself out there for attention and acknowledgment – sometimes positive, sometimes negative. Getting dopamine hits from likes and comments can be addictive and endlessly scrolling without stopping cues can also be addictive.”
He explained how dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain that gives a rewarding feeling when a person does something. People may often have dopamine surges when they are complimented or have done a good deed and are thanked for it.
Allred continued by saying how both draws of social media may initially begin as harmless entertainment or something to distract and fill time but both could soon slip into addiction.
The studies he said he has examined showed Instagram as the worst social media app, in terms of its effects on the mental health of teenagers, with Facebook and YouTube following closely. Allred commented, “Instagram packs a deadly punch. It is endless in its scroll and suggestions. It often focuses on pics over connection and meaningful communication, and it is incredibly portable with an app on every major device. It is almost stressful keeping up for some and can be outrageous. Seeing and being seen have been packaged and sold to us in ramped up ways that expedite the conditioning process.”
To decrease depression from social media, Allred suggested, “Connect with people in real life and to [decrease] your networks down to a community of people you actually really know and interact with in real life. Get away from huge networks of contacts and acquaintances and get closer to smaller communities of family and friends you really love, see, and care about.”
Allred also suggested students try to read a book for 30 minutes straight, and then for an hour, or to try and watch a movie without even looking at another screen. “Think deeply about the film,” he encouraged.
“Another helpful exercise for battling depression and the effects of social media is to get in the habit at least once daily of writing a gratitude journal. As you sit and try to think of what you are grateful for, your mind will adapt, as it has in other ways to the internet, and will actually get better and better at scanning and finding things you are grateful for. The result is you will feel happier, more grateful, and your mind will start to rewire in different ways that can to some degree offset the effect of social media.”
Joana Chibota, a freshman from Zimbabwe majoring in biomedical science, said, “I think that people post their best self on social media. We only see what people want us to see. That causes us to compare our worst with other people’s best. For people who suffer from mental illness, like depression, it can be detrimental because they already don’t think highly of themselves. Comparing themselves to what they see on social media produces more feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing.”
Matt Stripling, a sophomore and Canadian accounting major, said he thinks social media is a very large part of the reason there is so much depression. “People only post what they want you to see and as a result, people only see the good and then they wonder why their life isn’t like that.”
Stripling revealed how he had often suffered sadness due to a comparison on social media.
When asked what a healthier option could be, Chibota said a strong foundation in a sense of self is important. “People won’t stop posting on social media. So be it depression or anxiety, or any other mental illness, society needs to work on getting people confident, loving themselves, and knowing they have worth.”