How has social media affected mental health during the pandemic?
On a global scale, social media can be a way for people to gather information, share ideas, and reach out to others facing similar challenges. It can also be an effective platform to relay information quickly during a national or worldwide crisis. This global reach is what has made social media a critical communication platform during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As government health organizations used it to relay recent findings on prevention and treatment, social media became more than a place to post the latest vacation photos.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health conditions are on the rise. Data show that around 20% of children and adolescents worldwide live with a mental health condition. Meanwhile, suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15–29-year-olds.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC found that of the adults surveyed in the United States:
31% reported symptoms of anxiety or depression
13% reported having started or increased substance use
26% reported experiencing stress-related symptoms
11% reported having suicidal thoughts
Further research suggests that pandemic-related mental health challenges have impacted people differently, with some racial and ethnic groups disproportionately affected by pandemic stress.
In particular, Hispanic adults reported experiencing the highest level of psychosocial stress in relation to food shortages and insecure housing at the start of the pandemic.
Scientists explain that some anxiety about personal safety and health during a widespread disease outbreak can help promote healthy behavior, including hand-washing and social distancing. However, in some people, anxiety can become overwhelming and cause harm.
Because the COVID-19 pandemic emerged recently, scientists are only beginning to understand the role of social media on users’ mental health.
For instance, using questionnaires, researchers in China interviewed college students from March 24 to April 1, 2020, to determine whether social media harmed mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Results indicate a link between higher use of social media and an increased risk of depression. Furthermore, the authors suggest that exposure to negative reports and posts may contribute to the risk of depression in some people.
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