Social media: An inducer of depression?

A girl scrolling through social media at night. Photo by mikoto.raw from Pexels.

A college student lies in her bed, scrolling through social media. Beautiful eyes are glued to a screen that seems to take away their beauty and replace them with a dull listless look. She throws her phone aside and walks to the window to open the blinds. Outside is the same neighborhood that greets her every morning, but as a college student who looked forward to changing her lifestyle, is instead faced with a certain emptiness associated with being left behind. Over the horizon, the world is moving, yet she is standing still. The college student walks to the bathroom, passing her parents’ room and wonders if they knew how caged she feels. In the bathroom she stares at a girl affected by the ails of quarantine: oily skin, ratty hair, a rounded belly from lack of movement, a neck that poked outward and a tired face. Her fingers twitched towards her phone, and in a few swipes, she was able to forget her reality by being distracted by others. 

This college student is severely addicted to her phone because she uses it for “escape.” Everyone has difficulties in life, and it is important to balance those struggles with more pleasant things like doing art, going to a museum, or even picnicking with friends. But social media has become the easiest escape mechanism for many teenagers. Researchers at UCLA find that social media actively changes the human brain and how it functions. Receiving “likes” on social media activates the reward center of teenagers’ brains, and they begin reading into “likes” and “shares” like they would with facial expressions and gestures. Social media replaces face to face interactions, and it becomes the immediate environment to most youth. In the process of receiving that “digital” dopamine, a psychological travesty occurs; teenagers lose their individualism. The brain adapts to the rules that social media sets, and with FOMO (fear-of-missing-out) and cancel-culture being so prevalent in the digital environment, users who don’t align with the majority have their platforms restricted.  

Everyone has experienced FOMO at least once in their lifetimes. Whether it be a kid worried about not receiving a birthday party invitation, or an adult being excluded in coworkers’ plans, the feeling of isolation is very real. This feeling of being an outsider is only amplified by social media. In 2017, Instagram was named the number one offender of mental health. Users misidentify likes and view counts as metrics of self-worth, and this reveals that people are highly affected by this digital environment. It manufactures what is “being cool” and thus tells people what their likes and dislikes should be. By allowing brand deals and influencers who market those trends to pop up more frequently on users’ feeds, the people who don’t fit those standards feel lower levels of self-esteem.  

Cancel culture is the phenomena where users will unfollow, add nasty comments, and block an influencer who they have “cancelled.” It could be because their influencer spoke their real mind on an issue, or just a slip up in a dating scandal, or really anything. But the basis is that someone is publicly called out and criticized. The influencers who get cancelled the most are teenagers, and the psychological damage the kid would face after being pushed out from the public is immense. Cancel culture threatens users to agree with opinions they might not to avoid being kicked out.  

The masses who just agree with whatever is said in social media without censors to fake news are spoon fed their thoughts. In elementary school, I remember I used to decorate my arms with Silly Bands because that was the trend, and then the trend became Rainbow Loom. Even as an eight-year-old, I felt the need to blend into society. I didn’t think much, just followed. Similarly, on Instagram, kids will listlessly scroll through posts and let other people guide their thinking. It’s why social entertainment in general is a “break.” People can binge through seasons of shows like “Suits” or “Criminal Minds” because the actors carry them through the scenes. How sad it is that teenagers spend nine hours a day letting others think for them.  

Depression is a medical condition different from feelings of sadness. It is a gradual onset of symptoms of lack of interest, changes in diet and sleep, and difficulty concentrating. When students are on social media every day, they compare themselves, and then lose who they are by fixating on trends due to the fear of missing out. As much as influencers try to talk to their followers about doing what they love to do, they themselves are still following social media trends to make an earning. It really gives kids a false perception that social media is improving themselves, while it just is getting them more addicted, and also distracted. There are 3.6 billion users of social media worldwide, and 95 million photos are uploaded on Instagram per day. Scrolling through new things every day eventually leads to needing to see new things every hour, and then every minute. Seeing symptoms of ADHD and high irritability develop on a user addicted to social media is not surprising.  

Ultimately, the outlook on that college student’s life is a brain game. The goal is to move to an equilibrium point where she is doing alright in the present situation and is productive. However social media causes her to move to extremes; she wants to be somewhere else because social media tells her that is happiness; however, her present situation cooped up in her room is the opposite of that expectation, and that causes sadness. The truth is that things are going to be alright, and quarantine will come to an end. However, constantly seeing different posts, the factor of change isn’t replicated in the monotonous lifestyle that quarantine serves, and so it seems to her that she is lacking. It is important to find other hobbies that replace the stimulus built up from social media. 18 to 19-year-olds spend on average 9 hours on social entertainment per day. Instead of letting social media dictate what you should do for yourself, think about what already makes you happy and give back time to that. 

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