The Effects of Social Media Usage on Mental Health: A Systematic Review

Humans are inherently social beings, and social connections play a vital role in our overall well-being. Research suggests that strong social ties can alleviate stress, anxiety, and sadness, while weak social connections can negatively impact mental health [1]. With the rise of social media platforms, people around the globe have taken to these tools to connect with others, spending countless hours scrolling through feeds, posting updates, and engaging with others. While social media offers numerous benefits, including staying connected with loved ones and expanding our social circles, it can also lead to mental health problems. This systematic review aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the effects of social media usage on mental health, focusing on anxiety and depression.

Social Media

Social media has quickly become an integral part of people’s daily routines, with millions of users logging onto platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger for extended periods each day [2][3]. As of 2019, there were approximately 3.484 billion social media users worldwide, representing a 9% annual growth rate [3][4]. Figure 1 demonstrates the gender distribution of global social media audiences as of January 2020, broken down by platform. Interestingly, the data reveals that women are more likely to use LinkedIn and Facebook, while men dominate the user base on Twitter and Snapchat [5].

While social media offers several advantages, such as improved communication and access to information, it can also contribute to mental health issues. Prior research indicates that both age and gender play a role in the relationship between social media usage and mental health, with younger individuals and women being more susceptible to experiencing mental health problems [6][7].

Impact on Mental Health

Mental health refers to an individual’s ability to understand their own capabilities, manage daily life challenges, perform well in various areas, and contribute positively to their community [8]. The debate surrounding the impact of social media on mental health continues, with some studies suggesting a correlation between social media usage and mental health problems, while others fail to find a significant relationship [9][10].

Social interactions form a critical component of mental health protection, with both the quantity and quality of social relationships having an impact on mental health, health behaviors, physical health, and mortality risk [9]. The displacement behavior theory posits that individuals who spend more time engaged in sedentary activities, such as social media use, have less time for face-to-face social interactions, which have been shown to protect against mental disorders [11][12]. Conversely, social cognitive theories propose that social media use influences mental health by shaping how individuals perceive, maintain, and interact with their social networks [13]. Several studies have demonstrated that prolonged use of social media platforms, such as Facebook, might be linked to symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress [10][14][15]. Moreover, social media can place immense pressure on individuals to conform to certain stereotypes and maintain popularity.

The Need for a Systematic Review

Systematic reviews offer a rigorous approach to identifying, aggregating, and evaluating all accessible data to produce a comprehensive and accurate answer to research questions [4]. Despite the existence of numerous systematic reviews related to mental health studies, few have been conducted with a focus on social media and the social sciences [6]. Due to the novel nature of social media, the potential links between usage and mental health have not been extensively studied.

This systematic review aims to fill this gap by examining the impact of social media on mental health, specifically in relation to sedentary behavior and its potential consequences for health problems. By conducting a thorough analysis of existing literature, we hope to provide a more complete understanding of how social media use affects mental well-being and identify areas where further research is needed. This will contribute to the development of evidence-based guidelines and interventions aimed at promoting positive mental health outcomes through responsible social media engagement.

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