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The Big Question: How does social media affect your mental health?

Dan Sipple
Ikon Images/Getty Images

Social media can keep us connected. We reach out to the people we love. We can capture and share memories of the moments that shape our lives. And we can see what that old high school classmate is up to nowadays.

But how does social media affect our mental health? Here’s some of what we know — and what we heard from a listener.

In October, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before a U.S. Senate panel, saying the tech giant knew Instagram, one of its products, was damaging to youth, especially young women.

Internal Facebook documents leaked to the Wall Street Journal revealed the company had conducted research on Instagram which found, among other things, that teens who struggle with mental health said Instagram makes it worse.

Further reporting from NPR found Facebook’s internal research may not have been entirely accurate, as it relied on teens self-reporting by using interviews and opinion surveys. It also wasn’t peer reviewed.

NPR cited a recent study that found social media often has a positive impact on teens, with 43% of teens reporting that social media usually makes them feel better when they’re struggling, as opposed to 17% who said it makes them feel worse. However, other researchers have claimed links to increased rates of depression and Facebook use.

So, there’s still more to learn — remember, these platforms aren’t exactly old. Instagram was launched in 2010. But as we’ve spent more time in front of our screens over the course of the past two years, it can be good to set boundaries, just like you would in a relationship. And for the parents out there, NPR’s Life Kit has some advice on how to manage screen time with kids.

Here’s what Olivia from Durham told us about social media:

“I definitely think that social media affects my mental health. The past year and a half, I've been working fully remotely on my computer at home, and I'm in Zoom meetings all day. And most of my communication is digital, so I feel like my brain has to move so fast all the time. Because of this, I feel like I don't have the mental wherewithal to keep up with social media. In the past few months, I've actually been removing social media off of my phone entirely for bouts of time, for a mental break. And during those moments, it provides me so much clarity and I feel really great being out of the loop. I work in politics, so I'm constantly bombarded with news all day, and so when I sign off from work, I really need a break. And if I'm staying on social media after work, it just feels like a continuation of my workday”.

So that's this month’s Big Question: How does social media affect your mental health?

Here’s how to send us your thoughts:

  • Download the NHPR app by searching “NHPR” on the Apple App Store for iPhones or iPads, or the Google Play Store for Androids.
  • Open the app and go to the menu using the button with three lines in the top left corner.
  • Select “Talk to Us.”
  • Press the microphone button, and talk away!
  • Click the blue “SEND” button to draft an email
  • Send your voice straight to our inboxes.
Steps to take in the NHPR app to submit an answer for The Big Question

Things to remember:

  • Start with your first name and the town or city where you live
  • Limit your voice memo to 1 minute
Julia Furukawa is the host of All Things Considered at NHPR. She joined the NHPR team in 2021 as a fellow producing ATC after working as a reporter and editor for The Paris News in Texas and a freelancer for KNKX Public Radio in Seattle.
Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.

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