Cultivating Curious Minds Blog

This blog on the Cultivating Curious Minds website provides information, strategies technology tools, and resources for educators on increasing innovation in the classroom, international education, and effective professional development

Social Media and The Impact on Mental Health


This week in EDUC 5131, we examined the impact of social media use on mental health. As Boyd(2014) claims, the use of social media is widely misunderstood, and teens are still communicating though in an online forum. However, despite the benefits of social media use, there unintended consequences of this new form of communication on students’ mental well being.

A study conducted by Gallager (2017) concluded that social media does impact students mental health in a negative manner particularly in the area of self-esteem.

Consequences of Social Media on Mental Health

Social media can serve as a means of making global connections and aid in the development of identity through the ability to form new and meaningful communications. However, social media can also lead to negative body image and self-esteem due to the idolatry of celebrities and online influences (Gallager, 2017).

18 to 24-year-olds are currently the most active demographic on social media (Gallager, 2017). However, a study conducted by the Pew Research Centre (2018) found that 95% of teens have access to a smartphone and 45% claim to be almost constantly connected. Given this, and the continued growth of social media use, we can assume that social media use will continue to grow and impact the younger generation.

This is problematic given the correlation between mental health conditions and social media use. The Centre for Collegiate Mental Health (2017) found that the top three mental health conditions are anxiety, depression and stress. Additionally, numerous studies have linked high social media use with anxiety and depression (Gallager, 2017; Kim & Lennon, 2007, pp. 3). In addition to body image issues due to social media, according to Gallager (2017) some of the primary factors of social media that lead to mental health conditions are the tendencies of individuals to only post their “highlight reel” of best life events leading to feelings of inadequacies in others. Furthermore, the engagement features of social media such as likes and comments have become a form of social currency. Individuals self-worth can be impacted if they are not getting the engagement with their posts that they had hoped.

These issues are further expanded upon in the following Ted Talk by Bailey Parnell:

One of the primary issues with social media use is its addictive tendencies. The design of social media sites is found to be similar to those of gambling sites (Canadian Association for Mental Health, 2016). According to the Canadian Association for Mental Health (2016), social media use elicits a response similar to alcohol or drug use. Furthermore, a study conducted by Ghose (2015) found that individuals who engaged in frequent social media use had higher activity levels in the amygdala the area of the brain responsible for impulse control. This suggests that although social media use is linked to negative consequences on mental health, individuals are unable to escape the vicious cycle of social media use due to its addictive properties.

How can we improve online experiences for youth?

It is important for teachers and parents to acknowledge teens enjoyment of social media use and help them develop skills and competencies to interact in an online communication environment in a positive manner. This would involve building education on netiquette and positive social media use into the curriculum to start conversations about the benefits, strengths and risks of online communication.

Numerous resources have been created to help individuals manage and become more conscious of their social media use. For example, 99 Days of Freedom is a challenge to stop using Facebook for 99 days as a “social media detox”. Time management apps such as the Google Chrome Extension StayFocusd can block certain sites during a particular time period to help individuals manage their social media use.


Boyd, Dana. (2014). It’s Complicated: the social lives of networked teens. New Haven, CN: Yale University Press

Canadian Mental Health Institute. (2017). Social Media and Mental Health. Retrieved from

Centre for Collegiate Mental Health (2017). 2017 Annual Report. Retrieved from

Kim, J., & Lennon, S. J. (2007). Mass Media and Self-Esteem, Body Image, and Eating Disorder Tendencies. Clothing and Textiles Research Journal, 25(1), 3-23. doi:10.1177/0887302x06296873

Gallager, S. (2017). The Influence of Social Media on Self Esteem. Thesis and Dissertations. Retrieved from:

Ghose, T. (2015). What Facebook Addiction Looks like in the Brain. Life Science. Retrieved from: addiction-viewed-brain.html

Pew Research Centre. (2018). Teens, Social Media & Technology. Retrieved July 21, 2018, from


Marisa HoskinsComment