Several studies have found an association between social media use and depression, suicide rate, and other negative behaviours

Originally published September 19, 2019 and updated April 9, 2020.

As governments close schools, parks, recreational facilities and more because of COVID-19, students are feeling increasingly isolated and are turning to social media to connect with their friends and family.

While social media brings a range of benefits, it also poses major risks to students, especially those with existing mental health issues.

What are the Dangers of Social Media?

According to The Child Mind Institute, teenagers and young adults (who make up the highest number of users on platforms like Instagram and Facebook) report 13-66% higher rates of depression than those who spent the least amount of time on social media.

Researchers from the University of Melbourne’s National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health warn of an association between social media use and depression, anxiety, sleep problems, eating issues, and increased suicide risk, The Week reports.

There are many reasons why social media use may negatively affect mental health, of which these are only a few:

Focus on likes — Likes on social media platforms activate the reward center of the brain. Likes activate the reward center of the brain, regardless of whether the content is positive or negative.

Making fake friends — There is no privacy online. People who don’t know youth can share their content for either positive or negative reasons.

Engaging in comparison — Most students are aware that what they’re seeing on social media accounts are highlight reels. However, it’s hard for them not to compare themselves with others.

Weakening of face-to-face social skills — Knowing how to interact face-to-face is an essential skill that needs to be practiced. More time online means less time learning how to read facial cues.

Cyberbullying — Comments and pictures posted online are often permanent. Unlike bullying, it’s not possible to run away from cyberbullying and escape the negative comments posted by others online.

What are the Positive Effects of Social Media?

The same University of Missouri study that found a link between Facebook use and depression also found that social media use also provides these benefits, reports Psychology Today:

Improves communication skills —Students find communities or create new ones of their own, where they engage in their hobbies and make new friends.

Provides an outlet for self-expression —Students create and share their own ideas through posting videos, art, and more.

What Can we do to Help?

As teachers and parents, encourage students to get involved in other activities. Encourage a lifestyle that balances online and offline activities. KIDTHINK, a youth mental health services provider in Manitoba, provides a comprehensive list of tips on how to promote family mental wellness, which include a list of physical activities and tips on how to spend time with others, be creative, be productive, and promote emotional well-being.

As a school leader, make sure you have the appropriate tools to filter and monitor your student’s social media use. Netsweeper’s onGuard can help with real-time, comprehensive monitoring, reporting and alerting of online and offline activity to allow for early intervention. onGuard detects keywords and phrases and recognizes the warning signs of issues such as depression, suicide, sexual grooming, and cyberbullying.

To learn more about student mental health and how you can support them, download our free whitepapers: