In a technology-driven era of education, the number of mental health issues among college students has significantly increased. Despite the convenience and flexibility technology and social media bring to students’ routines, many young adults in the U.S. are still struggling with anxiety and depression.
As college students continue to use social media, it is worth exploring how this increased engagement—often bordering on addiction—causes or aggravates mental health issues, particularly depression. Are parents and educators aware of this vulnerability? Are there steps being taken to address it?
According to Statista, approximately 41% of college students in the country have symptoms of depression. While symptoms of depression will depend on the severity, some of the most common indicators among college students include suicidal thoughts, sleep changes, fatigue, persistent feelings of hopelessness and sadness, and loss of passion and motivation.
Although many theories have been associated with why the statistics have risen over the years, one common and most evident factor is social media. A variety of research studies, including the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, have backed associations between social media and depression among young adults.
The Brain Institute from the University of Pittsburgh discovered that using multiple social media apps among young adults has increased their risks for depression and anxiety. The survey involved the 11 most popular social media apps, namely Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Vine, Pinterest, Reddit, Tumblr, and Google+. Participants using more social media apps have a 3.3% higher chance of showing more depression symptoms than those who use a few sites!
Impact Of Social Media On College Students
Studies show the varying degrees of correlation between depression and social networking apps among young adults. While the University of Pittsburgh highlights the link between depression and the number of social media apps used, the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology establishes the link between depression and prolonged social media use. The three-week study showed that the participants with limited social media apps significantly reduced depression and loneliness than those who prolonged their social media use.
Here are two of the most popular reasons social media easily contributes to depression among college students:
Feeling of Envy
Students with multiple social media accounts see countless images and videos of satisfying things and experiences that others have access to and enjoy. For students struggling with material things or longing for family and companionship, these things can do more harm than good by sparking shame and envy. A study showed that students who frequently see living-the-life posts of friends, families, and colleagues on Facebook often feel envious and become lonely and depressed.
Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
Another negative impact of social media sites on college students is the feeling of FOMO or the fear of missing out. If a college student is invited to a post-exam weekend party but couldn’t make it for a reason, they will experience FOMO after seeing posts of their friends or classmates partying and dancing. Similarly, being uninvited to that party may trigger feelings of being alone and offended as they question their self-worth and loyalty.
A Major Factor: Control And Fear Through Persistent Bad News
Before the technology-driven era, college students received updates from newspapers or radio/TV broadcasts at specific schedules. Today, young adults are four times more likely to obtain news from social media, according to Pew Research Center.
The pandemic highlighted the adverse effects of excessive social media use. For days on end, people experienced the constant bombardment of bad news relating to deaths, political turmoil, war, natural disasters, COVID variants, and COVID-related statistics. This type of information heightened feelings of anxiety and hopelessness among college students. It also led to a constant cycle of negativity, where may get used to and anticipate threats.
Social Media Use Among College Students: The Good and The Bad
Like the world’s most life-changing innovations, social media is a double-edged sword. For college students, here’s how social media can work for the common good and cause harm in the process.
Integrating social media apps across different resources has made learning more flexible and convenient. Since both learners and educators can connect in real-time using social media apps, they can have a more flexible learning process and enjoy self-paced learning anywhere.
Social media is a one-stop-shop of all kinds of information. Many college students who don’t have the resources to purchase books, apps, and other essential tools for learning can find a variety of learning content on social media. Content creators set up their channels and pages, giving people access to knowledge, often for free. Practically all social media now provide students a way to demystify mathematical equations, master foreign language, and whatnot!
Real-Time Updates and Information
Social media has replaced traditional print and broadcast media by providing real-time updates and information. Today, state governments run social media accounts and channels through which their constituents learn official announcements and policies. Information is easily verifiable, and users must do their part to spread only facts. Educators also use social media to announce updates, trends, initiatives, and events.
Social media has the excellent purpose of enabling easy access to and sharing updates, events, and activities. This, however, causes information overload. Students deal with a barrage of information at any given time, and it can be quite a challenge to process mentally and emotionally!
Social Media Addiction
Many college students struggle to balance their personal and academic commitments due to excessive use of social media. Social media addiction has been linked with dopamine, the main chemical secreted in one’s brain when engaged in a fulfilling experience, including food, pleasure, and exercise. The addicting habit of college students spending more time on their smartphones and scrolling in their social media accounts results in the release of excessive amounts of dopamine into their brain’s reward trail. It also makes it quite difficult for students to deactivate their social media accounts and resolve procrastination.
Lack of Quality Time
The more social media became popular, the more college students ignored the true meaning of quality time. Instead of spending time outdoors, watching movies, celebrating milestones, sharing meals, and discussing issues, students prefer talking on their smartphones and updating their timelines for others to see. They could care less for face-to-face interactions.
Why Social Media Can Cause Depression Among College Students
Social Media Addiction
While social media promotes instant connection, it creates an unhealthy social life. Students who have developed an addiction to social media are likely to neglect their studies and hobbies. The lack of actual and meaningful interactions leads to low self-esteem and affects the emotional well-being. They become dependent on their smartphones for acceptance and validation—causing them to be depressed, anxious, and isolated.
Comparisons and Peer Pressure
TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook are the major social media platforms that publicize trends. On either, students want to leave the impression that they live a glorious and happy lifestyle. It’s not easy to keep up with this trend! Roughly one out of eight young adults in the U.S. feel pressured to appear famous on social media, triggering anxiety and loneliness from constantly seeking social media validation.
Social media peer pressure affects how college students manage their negative emotions, including tension and stress. They feel pressured to keep up with the trends—which they can only do by suppressing their real feelings. Young adults often disregard their mental health and avoid seeking counsel from their closest friends, families, and professionals to appear happy and content.
Social media has made it easier to bully someone without real contact and anonymously. According to Pew Research Center, 59% of American teens have experienced cyberbullying—a problem that politicians, educators, and social media companies are still scrambling to address. Did you know most cases of cyberbullying happen on Instagram and Facebook?
Cyberbullied college students demonstrate social withdrawal and other behavioral issues. They also show poor academic performance. A University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine study reveals that cyberbullied young adults suffer from more severe anger issues, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorders than those who weren’t.
Exercise, sports, and other physical activities can reduce the risk of mental health issues. They address mental health conditions, including anxiety, stress, and depression. The prolonged use of social media now keeps college students from leading active lifestyles. Endless scrolling and switching from one social media app to another leads to more health problems, including incorrect posture, headaches, and poor eyesight.
A sedentary lifestyle triggered by excessive social media use makes college students more vulnerable to mental health illnesses. Exercise and sports are healthy alternatives and diversions that reduce anxiety and alleviate depression.
College students already deal with self-esteem issues due to changes brought by puberty. Prolonged social media use can trigger insecurities and low self-confidence. Snapchat and Instagram are the major contributors to self-esteem issues, creating a platform of false perceptions of health, beauty, and happiness. These social media apps have undoubtedly harmed their well-being.
Since some students are drawn to false misconceptions about beauty triggered by social media apps, feelings of unworthiness, insecurities, and passive-aggressive behaviors tend to dominate. They develop a feeling of despair, comparisons, and discontent, leading to anxiety and depression.
A collective effort to help alleviate depression caused by social media among college students is crucial for both educators and students themselves. While educators are pivotal in advocating students’ mental and social well-being, the students themselves must have a proactive approach to addressing these challenges.
Addressing College Student Depression Caused By Social Media
Students must set time restrictions.
Because prolonged social media use can lead to anxiety and depression, students must consciously monitor this habit. Readily available, downloadable, and easy-to-install screen monitoring apps can alleviate the problem. Instagram, for example, has a “Your Activity” feature that lets you see how much time is spent on Instagram daily. It serves as great insights on how to start a routine of limiting your time on social media. Several apps can also let you manage time by setting a daily time limit, a reminder to take breaks, and notification settings for alerting you that it’s time to stop.
College students can also integrate healthy boundaries into their routine by setting their own rules. They can enforce rules, including no social media within one hour after waking up in the morning or one hour before bedtime. Another example is to put the phone down when you’re having coffee with friends or at dinner time with families.
Students must be mindful of the individuals, groups and trends they follow.
Since social media can trigger comparisons and feelings of envy, college students must control what shows up on their newsfeeds and timelines. Certain moods are easily influenced by what you can see on social media apps. If friends, families, and colleagues’ posts make you feel that you’re not doing enough or feeling left behind or out of place, then it is helpful to tap the “Unfollow,” “Unlike,” “Ignore,” or “Mute” buttons. Review friends list or liked pages and eliminate those that don’t spark joy in your life. It is the simplest yet most empowering thing we can do for peace of mind.
Alternatively, find a niche that sparks passion and interest and follow content creators that cater to these niches. Many groups also help you find the opportunity to connect with a like-minded audience. Do something daily to manifest the content you want to see on your newsfeeds.
Colleges must actively advocate anti-cyberbullying practices.
Every school must take proactive steps in preventing rampant cyberbullying among their student community. They should look out for manifestations of cyberbullying, including sudden social withdrawal of students, aggression, anger issues, and other depressive signs among college students. As part of their anti-cyberbullying campaigns, schools must have standard protocols for dealing with and resolving cyberbullying instances, facilitate mentoring and counseling sessions for students, and help victims of cyberbullying cope through a variety of treatment plans and therapies.
Academic institutions must also raise awareness about mental health issues. They must form organizations and clubs that advocate the importance of mental health and anti-cyberbullying. A variety of mental health campaigns can also supplement clubs and communities. Each college must celebrate mental health awareness months by sharing helpful videos, brochures, banners, and campaign ads. A safe space for college students to carry out open-minded discussions regarding mental health is also crucial.
Colleges must facilitate counseling programs for college students.
Every college student has a unique social media experience. These days, psychologists and school counselors are skilled in handling depression and anxieties perpetuated by the excessive use of social media. These professionals can help develop affordable and accessible counseling sessions tailored to every student’s needs. The school must also have one-stop-shop access to contact numbers of mental health helplines, mental health tools and resources, school counselors, and psychologists. It is an effective way to let college students know that it is perfectly normal and readily available to seek professional help.
College students make up a big chunk of social media users. When used purposefully, this powerful innovation can create wonders. However, overuse and prolonged exposure to these platforms bring about depression, anxiety, and behavioral issues. Limiting the use of social media and properly managing what others see can improve college students’ overall well-being and mental health.