Is Social Media Affecting Our Mental Health?

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Canada speaks up on mental illness, and with Mental Health Awareness Week, more Canadians have joined the discussion. But what else can affect mental health? With today’s technology and the Internet, social media is one of the factors that expose people to a toxic environment.

You may argue that tragedies like Humboldt Broncos bus crash or the van attack in Toronto have been a shock to many, but it’s also the news on them that exposed people, affecting their mental health too.

It’s an Obsession, and It Impacts Our Health

Instructor Marie Laenen with the Lethbridge College Health and Wellness admits that social media channels have a way to inundate our minds with tragedies:

“In some cases, we kind of become a little bit obsessed. It’s kind of like the tooth that hurts that we want to keep pressing on.”

Laenen has a long career in the mental health field. She says that sometimes social media has a positive effect, but it’s the negative that truly affects us:

“There’s a lot of evidence that says seeing those stories frequently actually does have an impact on us. When it does become where it’s disrupting your sleep and changing your life decisions, where you start making decisions out of fear, that’s a really good point to step back.”

Online connection is also good at gathering people together and helping strangers in funding campaigns. But psychologist Brad Hagen who works at Associates’ Counseling Services, argues that social media is also a stress on people’s mental health:

“Quite a few people who come to see me who have anxiety and depression, many of them talk about their online use and social media use and how they sort of feel compelled to use it. But afterwards they actually feel more lonely, or more depressed, or more anxious.”

Sharing False Impressions

He also thinks that social media is the place where most people show a false image of themselves, where they’re happier, prettier, smarter, have better jobs and so on, making others feel like their life is bleak.

Laenen explains that we can find ways of bouncing back from feeling down, most of them being healthy:

“Taking our dogs for a walk, or petting our cats, music, drumming, yoga. We have lot of built-in natural resiliency things that we already do and that really helps with coping strategies.”

Hagen hopes that people are more thoughtful about the way social media makes them feel and change it, they should consider how the online makes them feel and realize that it can affect “their thoughts and moods and body.”

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Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.


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