How social media is affecting some students’ mental health

Social media users often use editing apps like Facetune to alter their photos, but undergraduates who cut down social media use showed lower rates of depression, according to a 2018 study by the University of Pennsylvania. Photo illustration by Max Weirauch

Sophomore history major George Tajonera understands the toxicity of social media – Instagram in particular. He even deleted his account in fall 2018 in order to remove himself from what he refers to as a “battleground for popularity.”

“I genuinely don’t believe people post on social media to be authentic,” Tajonera said. “It’s all to maintain a certain image of your life by only including the highlights of it with the intention of impressing peers.”

Instagram has a reputation of one of the worst social media platforms for mental health, according to BBC News. It has an undeniable negative effect on body image, said Ella Hardy.

Hardy, a sophomore screenwriting major, said it has started to affect young people whose lives have always centered around social media. Tools like Facetune and Photoshop give anyone the ability to change their appearance to adhere to beauty standards, she said.

“People who use Facetune are blatantly saying, ‘This is what I don’t like about my body,’” Hardy said. “Facetune perpetuates stereotypes of what people think they should look like.”

A 2018 study at the University of Pennsylvania found that undergraduates who cut down social media use to 30 minutes a day for three weeks showed lower rates of depression and loneliness. But in 2019, 31 percent of Instagram users were between the ages of 18 and 24, according to Statista.

Tajonera belonged in that category before he deleted his Instagram last year when he found that the platform was no longer entertaining and reflective of real-life expectations. And he noticed some unhealthy aspects of the platform that became detrimental to his mental health.

“It seemed as if people were actively trying to make their lives seem more spectacular,” Tajonera said. “(Instagram became) a competition as to who was living the most exciting life because people would post about parties, vacations and the like.”

Tajonera described social media as exacerbating the effects of fear of missing out, also known as “FOMO.”

Ashley Blacher, sophomore public relations and advertising major, social media is detrimental to self-perception.

“It affects your self-esteem because it’s an opportunity for validation from people. You can either accept that validation or that’s not enough,” Blacher said.

Blacher also deleted her Instagram in high school but downloaded it again before starting at Chapman A 2015 study of 227 female college students found that women often compare themselves to friends, acquaintances and celebrities on social media.

“You see these pictures and people are doing things just for the pics on Instagram,” Blacher said. “In high school, I’d feel FOMO and feel bad about myself because of the models and celebrities.”

Young people are the easiest to influence, Hardy said.

“My entire life, I’ve had the internet, a phone, a computer. They see these images and think they are normal, which leads to them believing that they themselves aren’t normal,” Hardy said. “It’s so sad that young people are being conditioned to see themselves and others this way.”