Social Media and Mental Health: What are the Dangers?


Social Media and Mental Health:

What are the Dangers?

The Counseling Center has seen a significant increase in students seeking mental health services over the past few years, which has mimicked the national average. The American College Health Association conducts an annual national survey that examines these trends broadly among college age students. In their spring 2018 survey, they gathered data from 88,178 respondents and found that within the last 12 months:

  • 4% of students “felt things were hopeless” [1]
  • 8% “felt very lonely” [1]
  • 4% “felt overwhelming anxiety” [1]
  • 9% “felt so depressed that it was difficult to function” [1]

These results are higher than the historical average and despite the increase in counseling efforts, many students are still struggling with mental health.

So, what is to blame for the severe increase to these concerns?

There are many interconnected factors that may be influencing an individual’s circumstances such as economic pressures, family structures, pressure to succeed academically, narcissism, and a wide variety of other social, personal, and cultural factors [1, 2]. Even so, a new trend is becoming more apparent. Research on the increase in mental health concerns among college students has repeatedly shown a correlation between heightened levels of mental health concerns and the use of smartphones and social media [1, 2, 3].

Specifically, many studies have shown a positive correlation between social media use and higher levels of depression and/or anxiety. Popular symptoms include:

  • Feeling a void of emotional nourishment [1]
  • Finding it challenging to disengage from work/school [1]
  • FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) fueling obsessive smartphone use [1]
  • Perceiving others’ lives more desirable than one’s own [1]
  • Getting a “high” from an influx in texts, social media likes, comments, and shares [1]
  • Altered sleep patterns due to blue light exposure [2]
  • Reduced cognitive capacity when a smartphone or social media is present [1]
  • Addicting behavior toward technology use [3]

So, what can you do? Unplug.

The Unplug Movement advocated for by the Sabbath Manifesto, challenges social media users (and general technology users) to step away from devices and become more engaged with yourself and your community [1]. This can be done by making time for self-care through a variety of activities, such as meditation, getting plenty of rest, exercising, reading a book, and much more! Other simple things to try might include turning off phone and app notifications, removing devices from the bedroom, and setting time and/or use limits [1]. To find out more or for additional ideas click here. Getting involved with your community is one of the best ways to feel connected while being part of local change. Volunteering at local non-profits is a great place to start. Check out JMU’s Community Service Learning office to find out what options are available in Harrisonburg. Or, start slow by spending time with friends in the community at fun, local spaces without technology impeding the conversation. This might be done by putting all phones away while hanging out or simply turning “Do Not Disturb” on until you part ways.  


  1. Cain, J. (2018). It is Time to Confront Student Mental Health Issues Associated with Smartphones and Social Media. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 82(7), 738-741.
  2. Rohilla, P. S., & Kumar, K. (2015). Impact of Social Media on Mental Health. International Journal of Education, 5, 142-148.
  3. Seabrook, E. M., Kern, M. L., & Rickard, N. S. (2016). Social networking sites, depression, and anxiety: a systematic review. JMIR mental health3(4).

Published: Friday, February 1, 2019

Last Updated: Wednesday, March 27, 2019

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