Depression and anxiety from social media addiction

By Rohit Joshi & Priya Chetty on October 22, 2021

In recent times, the way human beings interact with each other has seen a drastic shift. Interpersonal communication has become ubiquitous with social media. The advent of Internet-based social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram and the ease of accessibility of technology has made them a significant part of social lives. This easy access brings with it social media addiction which is characterized by excessive and irrational use of these platforms that has the potential to adversely affect daily lives (Griffiths, 20013).

Social media addiction has been associated with a host of mental problems. The excessive use of social media has been associated with signs of dispositional anxiety and linked to greater odds of developing an anxiety disorder (Vannucci et al., 2017). There is also a strong correlation between an increase in depression and the use of social media (Lin et al., 2016).

Relevance of gender in social media addiction

There is an intersectionality that needs to be considered while talking about the adverse effects of excessive social media platforms usage. It is known that that gender plays an important role in mental health. Women are at a greater risk of psychological problems than men (Afifi,2007). Addiction to social media platforms seems to be no different. Characteristics such as age and gender are important markers of how individuals are impacted by it (Aparicio-Martínez et al., 2020). This article tries to present some of the investigations and studies are done to elaborate whether gender has a role to play in social media addiction and their associated findings.

Susceptibility to addictive behaviour among men and women

The probability of men being addicted to illicit drugs is higher than that of females. The same seems to be applicable in terms of social media addiction where males show a higher level of addiction. However, based on recent studies, women use drugs differently than men do. Joshi and Chouhan (2018) in their study compared the impact of social media addiction on gender in regards to well-being. It was found that males are more addicted to social networking sites than females but still have a lower level of well-being.

Behavioural differences among men and women in social media usage

Twenge and Martin (2020) conducted an exploratory analysis using three large representative surveys that tracked the relationship between social media use and several measures of psychological disorders among adolescents. The findings revealed that heavy social media usage was associated with mental health issues in both genders. This is not surprising since this correlation has been well established from prior research on the topic. However, associations between high to moderate social media use and low psychological well-being were higher in girls than boys.

Both these studies may point to the fact that online behaviour is not the same for both genders. Women are more likely to receive negative comments and feedback than men which is detrimental to their mental health. A recent social experiment done by a prominent male journalist Martin Belam (2013), drives home the point where he received significantly more negative comments on a post when he posted it using a woman’s Twitter account as compared to when he posted the same thing from his account.

Appearance plays a role in psychological distress

One of the largest cohort studies was conducted in the UK on the use of social media and its impact on adolescent mental health by Kelly et al. (2018). This study investigated the impact of social media use on mental health issues like depression and whether any such impact could be explained by online harassment, sleep, self-esteem and body image issues. The results confirmed the link between an increase in social media usage and depressive symptoms was stronger in girls than boys. It also showed that girls were twice as likely as boys to have been victims of online harassment. Girls are also more likely to be unhappy with their appearance than boys.

Loss of self-esteem among women on photo-sharing apps

The #StatusofMind report by the Royal Society of Public health (2017) surveyed 16-24-year-olds on the impact of various social media sites on mental well-being. The respondents reported many benefits of social media but at the same time, they reported an increase in instances of anxiety, depression, body image issues, and cyberbullying. The photo-sharing website Instagram received the worst ratings of all from women for anxiety and body image issues since it made them feel inadequate and led to a loss of self-esteem. Girls also experience much more cyberbullying than boys. This seems to be the pattern across social media sites for women. 

COVID-19 and the linkage to psychological disorders

While on this topic, it is impossible to ignore the impact COVID 19 has had on mental health. Hou et al. (2020); conducted a cross-sectional study examining the gender differences of depression and anxiety among social media users during the pandemic in China. It was found that not only was there an increase in the overall depression and anxiety levels of the population but the symptoms were more severe in females. Social media is also one of the main sources of news for many people in the world and this was a time when the news about the pandemic was constantly bombarded on these platforms. Thus, the overall increase in the prevalence of mental health issues is expected but from this study, it is observed that the impact is different among different genders.

The increase in the use of social media adversely affects men and women alike. However, the impact on women seems to be higher than that on men with women reporting more depressive and anxiety symptoms than men. Due to various biological factors, women are more susceptible to depression and anxiety disorders during various stages of their lifetime. Increasing usage of social media seems to be adding to this. Additionally, society’s attitude towards women online partly shares the blame. The instances of cyberbullying and shaming of women are on the rise. Abstinence is not a pragmatic solution in today’s connected world. However, limiting usage will help. Recent researches conclude that limiting social media use to approximately 30 minutes per day may lead to significant improvement in well-being.