Is Social Media Bad For Your Mental Health?

Author: Alexandria Brooks
Posted: Thursday, June 16, 2022 12:00 AM
Categories: Pressroom | School of Health and Natural Sciences | Faculty/Staff

Macon, GA


From Facebook to TikTok and everything in between, social media is engrained in our everyday lives, connecting us to work, school, businesses, and each other. However, while social media helps to build these connections and ease feelings of isolation, it also takes a toll on users’ mental and emotional wellbeing. Dr. Kim Johnson, associate professor of nursing at Middle Georgia State University, explains why social media use may be hurting your health and shares the benefits of taking a break.

What drives social media use?

For the past two decades, social media has become a double-edged sword as we scroll to cure boredom, portray polished versions of ourselves, or catch up with family and friends. It can be an incredible tool for connecting with those who are important to us, for gathering information, and for self-expression. However, while there are positive uses for social media, there are physiological effects on our brains that affect our dopaminergic pathways and thus our mental health.

Per the Pew Research Center (2021), 82 percent of American adults 30 years old and younger use some type of social media. Whiting and Williams (2013) identify these five uses for social media which include social interaction (88 percent), information seeking (80 percent), to pass time (76 percent), entertainment (64 percent), and relaxation (60 percent). Colloquially, many of our students state the reason they use social media is for ‘fear of missing out” or FOMO. Studies have been performed on “FOMO,” which determined that this phenomenon contributes to social media fatigue.

What are the risks vs. rewards of social media consumption?

Users seek out social media to meet basic needs for entertainment, autonomy, relatedness, intrinsic and external motivation, and perceptions of well-being. Teens and young adults spend an increasing amount of time with online socialization and are at greater risk of negative effects. Teens have a less fixed sense of self that relies more on feedback from peers. Also, teens and young adults have a less mature prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that regulates emotional responses to social rewards. Research studies note the connection between use of social media and its undesirable outcomes that increase incidence of anxiety, stress, depression, body image concerns, and loneliness in teens and young adults (APA, 2022).

How does social media impact mental and emotional health? What are the signs?

Social media use, just as use of alcohol or drugs, can highjack the dopaminergic pathways more quickly and reliably than naturally derived awards such as studying hard and getting a good grade. Effort gained from diligent, time-consuming work is slower to access the reward system, while checking Snapchat or Instagram causes a rush of dopamine that provides immediate gratification. Recurrent checking behavior can be likened to smoking a cigarette, which floods the dopaminergic pathway quicker. Thus, the almost instant dopamine rush becomes addictive and can result in depression, anxiety, and other mental illness. Self-disclosure on social networking sites lights up the same part of the brain that ignites when taking an addictive substance. In the mesolimbic system, dopamine is released during pleasurable experiences and binds to dopaminergic receptors located in the nucleus accumbens (Kumar, 2020).

Signs of compulsive social media use include preoccupation, spending increased time on social media sites to the detriment of one’s health or relationships, needing longer periods of time on the internet to gain satisfaction, unsuccessful efforts to control or stop use of social media, as well as restlessness, sadness, or anxiety when attempting to control social media use.

How can individuals help to limit the impact of media consumption on their mental and emotional health?

The first step is recognition that a problem with excessive social media exists and making a plan to curb usage. Studies show that self-corrective behavior can be achieved and is successful. Corrective behavior includes recognizing increasing social media use by using apps to track usage. More suggestions include turning off app notifications as they are the biggest source of distraction, moving most-used apps from the home page to a folder that is difficult to access, charging mobile phones in harder to reach places, creating personal daily time limits to control phone usage, and changing color settings on the phone to black and white.

How can parents or guardians help children or teens with unhealthy social media habits?

Limiting social media use of preteens and teens helps control early introduction of harmful, aggressive advertising, cyberbullying, body-image concerns, and poor self-esteem. If use can be curtailed to later teen or young adulthood years, each individual will have a more developed of sense of self. Increased maturity in the pre-frontal cortex helps younger adults have more control over their emotions. Parents can set timers, control of apps, and time usage after 10 p.m., color settings, and keep kids educated on the potential dangers inherent in social media use.

How can platforms help or change in order to support vulnerable individuals?

The information revolution of the century has produced the most dramatic economic and social transformation since industrialization, instigating its own set of unanticipated and unacceptable harms to children, teens, and young adults. As with the fight against child labor, these harms will continue to manifest until policymakers act. Internet platforms can be changed to promote support for vulnerable individuals; however, consensus agrees they must be forced to do so by policymakers. Limitations on social media platforms of any kind is likely to decrease profits of these internet platforms.

Some ways policy limitations on social media would support children, teens, and young adults include:


  • Making it harder for images uploaded of children to reach widespread dissemination
  • Banning individuals under 18 from changing from private to public settings
  • Stopping the deliberate engineering cycle of virtual affirmation that drives vulnerable populations to stay online or buy products
  • Preventing the creation of a permanent public record using pictures and postings
  • Banning various channels for sexual exploitation that social media enables


Dr. Kim Johnson is a practicing dual board-certified psychiatric nurse Practitioner and a family nurse practitioner at Woods Medical, LLC. She is skilled in medication management for psychiatric disorders in concurrence with chronic disease management. As an associate professor at Middle Georgia State University, she teaches mental health courses to baccalaureate nursing students as well as advanced pharmacology, and professionalism to students in the master’s degree program. She is a University System of Georgia Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Fellow, chair of MGA’s Alumni Association, and has been teaching at MGA for 12 years. She obtained her DNP, PMHNP, and FNP from Georgia Southern University. Her primary interests include easing the burden and stigma of psychiatric illness and promotion of the nurse practitioner within the delivery of healthcare.



American Psychological Association (2022). Why young brains are especially vulnerable to social media. APA News and Advocacy.

Bashir, H., & Bhat, S. A. (2017). Effects of social media on mental health: A review. International Journal of Indian Psychology4(3), 125-131.

Center, P.R.  (2021). Social media fact sheet. Pew Research Center: Washington, DC, USA.

Dwivedi, Y. K., Ismagilova, E., Hughes, D. L., Carlson, J., Filieri, R., Jacobson, J., & Wang, Y. (2021). "Setting the future of digital and social media marketing research: Perspectives and research propositions." (“Setting the future of digital and social media marketing research ...”) International Journal of Information Management59, 102168.

Kumar, A., & Sachdeva, N. (2020). Multi-input integrative learning using deep neural networks and transfer learning for cyberbullying detection in real-time code-mix data. Multimedia systems, 1-15.

Whiting, A. and Williams, D (2013). "Why people use social media: a uses and gratifications approach" Qualitative Market Research, Vol. 16 No. 4, pp. 362-369.