Globally, statistics suggest that mental health has declined since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Are social media partly to blame?
Globally, social media can be a way for people to gather information, share ideas, and connect with others facing similar challenges. It can also be an effective platform to convey information quickly during a national or global crisis.
This global reach is what made social media a vital communication platform during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As government health organizations used it to broadcast recent findings on prevention and treatment, social media has become more than just a place to post the latest vacation photos – it has become a hub for information related to the pandemic. .
But has the use of social media during the pandemic had a negative impact on mental health and well-being? Or has it had the opposite effect?
In this special article, Medical News Today examines what research says about social media use and the COVID-19 pandemic to reveal how it has affected mental health. We also spoke with two experts on this complex subject.
The current state of mental health
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health problems are on the rise. The data shows that about 20% of the reliable sources of children and adolescents around the world live with a mental health problem.
Additionally, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, a report published by the trusted source for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that among adults surveyed in the United States:
31% reported symptoms of anxiety or depression
13% said substance use started or increased
26% reported experiencing stress-related symptoms.
11% reported having suicidal thoughts
Other research suggests that pandemic-related mental health problems have affected people differently, with certain racial and ethnic groups disproportionately affected by pandemic stress.
In particular, Hispanic adults reported experiencing the highest level of psychosocial stress related to food shortages and poor housing at the start of the pandemic.
Impact of public health crises on mental health
A research report published in Frontiers in Psychology suggests that there is an association between pandemic threats and considerable public anxiety and concern.
Scientists explain that some anxiety about personal safety and health during an outbreak of generalized illness can help promote healthy behavior, including hand washing and social distancing.
However, in some people, anxiety can become overwhelming and cause damage.
Disinformation in social networks and health
The use of social media has been on the rise since its inception in 1995. As it grew, more and more people began to use it as a source of information. According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted between August 31 and September 7, 2020, about 53% of adults in the United States get their news from social media.
Research Trusted Source indicates that social media can help effectively communicate health information to a global audience during a public health crisis. However, the information shared on these platforms can sometimes be inaccurate or misleading.
For example, a research review published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research analyzed social media posts prior to March 2019 and found that Twitter had the most health misinformation, primarily about smoking products and drugs.
This misinformation about health can lead to increased fear, anxiety, and poor health choices.
Attempts to reduce the spread of misinformation by checking the facts and reporting inaccurate messages can help reduce the influence of misinformation for some people, a study finds.
Still, there is debate over whether regulating social media content can increase mistrust and promote more social media posts that reflect inaccurate information.
Social media, COVID-19 and mental health
Since the COVID-19 pandemic has emerged recently, scientists are only beginning to understand the role of social media in users’ mental health.
For example, using questionnaires, researchers from China interviewed 512 Trusted Source students from March 24 to April 1, 2020 to determine whether social media harmed mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The results indicate a link between increased use of social media and an increased risk of depression. Additionally, the authors suggest that exposure to negative reports and messages may contribute to the risk of depression in some people.
Additionally, according to a study published in the journal Globalization and HealthTrusted Source, there is growing evidence that countless news sources reporting SARS-CoV-2 infection rates and COVID-19 death rates could influence the mental health of some people.