Social media usage exponentially grew in the United States when officials declared a national emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Strict lockdown measures ensued, which in turn led to school and business shutdowns. Essential businesses such as grocery stores and pharmacies operated at limited capacity. Colleges and universities switched to an online format called “distance learning.” As society essentially closed down, people were home and advised not to go outside. Since families and friends could not communicate in person, they relied on social media to connect with each other. The measures health officials set in place were to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, but isolation, loneliness and overall well-being was adversely affected. Social media usage could keep people from feeling lonely and isolated. However, according to three studies reviewed here, the negative effects of social media on mental health were evident amid the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Researchers in April and May 2020 sent out a survey invitation through various social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to people across the U.S. and other countries. They collected data every 3 to 4 weeks and participants had to rank their feelings from four response categories. If people scored high on the categories, that meant that they had poorer mental health (Geirdal et al., 2020). Another scale researchers used was where they asked participants to rank their quality of life from 0-10. If they said 10, they were psychologically well. Low scores communicated that a participant was struggling emotionally. A total of 3810 people responded to the survey across 4 countries (Norway, U.S., U.K., and Australia); many participants were 18 years or older (Geirdal et al., 2020). The results showed how Australia had lower social media usage than the U.S. Norway had fewer people than the U.S. report mental health challenges. However, the study found that 75% of the people reporting high emotional distress used social media several times per day (Geirdal et al., 2020).
The second article discusses how social media was critical in providing perspective on people’s mental wellbeing during the early stages of the pandemic. 45% of Americans reported having significant mental health challenges, such as high levels of sadness (Valdez et al., 2020). Researchers used sets of tweets from Twitter to examine the behavior and conversation themes among users. The first set of tweets were all about the pandemic and its personal effects on people. They also dug deeper into the timeline of each tweet, tracking each tweet and comparing them to each day the pandemic was rampant. The results showed how the themes of each tweet had changed according to each stage of the pandemic. Since the beginning of 2020, the focus of the Coronavirus has been on China, particularly the city Wuhan. However, in March 2020, the tweets focused more on lockdown and quarantine (Valdez et al., 2020).
Also, social media usage exponentially grew when the U.S. declared a national emergency, as people used platforms such as Twitter to remain up to date on recent news.
The third article’s findings showed that the effect of social media usage on one’s mental health depended on the person’s emotional wellbeing. Researchers examined the relationship between social media activities and the status of people’s mental health and emotional regulation. They collected data through a questionnaire by using a popular survey platform in China. Participants were 18 years and older and 3159 questionnaires were evaluated (Yang et al., 2020). Among other things, researchers measured participants’ life satisfaction, depression and anxiety levels. The findings showed half of the participants reported high internet usage where participants used the internet for more than six hours per day. Half of them reported that they spent at least 30% of their time online (Yang et al., 2020). There was a correlation between people who reported high life satisfaction and positive social media usage and people who reported low life satisfaction and negative social media usage. Also, those who were critical on social media reported lower levels of life satisfaction than people who were not critical of others. These results indicated that people who were happy shared positive COVID-19 information, discussed the pandemic less with others, and judged less on social media. That is why researchers reported a 30 percent variance in life satisfaction (Yang et al., 2020). The results still showed that people did suffer adverse effects on their mental health from social media usage but it depended on how they were already feeling emotionally.
These three articles showed the effects of social media on mental health amid the pandemic. Social media companies should realize how their platforms are affecting their users’ mental health and make necessary reforms to promote mental wellness. They should also promote positive media content that will promote compassion and kindness. Social distancing and other mitigation measures did affect people’s mental health and social media only exacerbated their emotional turmoil.
Geirdal, A. S., Ruffolo, M., Leung, J., Thygesen, H., Price, D., Bonsaksen, T., & Schoultz, M. (2021). Mental health, quality of life, wellbeing, loneliness and use of social media in a time of social distancing during the COVID-19 outbreak. A cross-country comparative study. Journal of Mental Health, 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1080/09638237.2021.1875413
Valdez, D., Ten Thij, M., Bathina, K., Rutter, L. A., & Bollen, J. (2020). Social Media Insights Into US Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Longitudinal Analysis of Twitter Data. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 22(12), e21418. https://doi-org.proxy.wexler hunter.cuny.edu/10.2196/21418
Yang, Y., Liu, K., Li, S., & Shu, M. (2020). Social Media Activities, Emotion Regulation Strategies, and Their Interactions on People’s Mental Health in COVID-19 Pandemic. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(23). https://doi-org.proxy wexler.hunter.cuny.edu/10.3390/ijerph17238931