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Social Media and Mental Health

The Hon. J.A. DARLEY (16:11): I rise today to speak about social media and its link to mental health issues. Today we are connected more than ever with advances in technology. Social media allows us to reconnect with old friends, make new ones, and maintain friendships, no matter where we are in the world; however, if not used mindfully, social media can equally make people feel disconnected and it has been linked to negatively affecting mental health. I am particularly concerned about the impact social media is having on young people today. Although I can appreciate that social media is a powerful tool and can be used for good, I am grateful that I experienced a childhood free from social media.

I am concerned that young people are spending too much time trying to capture perfect moments instead of being present in those moments and connecting meaningfully to people around them. Our streets, public transportation, restaurants and even our homes are filled with people looking at screens instead of faces. I fear that our young people are missing out on important social interactions and experiences in their lives.

The highest incidence of social media use is seen amongst those aged 16 to 24 years. These years are a crucial time for young people for emotional and social development. During this time, young people are trying to make sense of their identity. This developmental stage can be quite challenging and social media can play on a young person's vulnerabilities including their need for validation and their fears of rejection.

Studies have shown that excessive use of social media has been linked to depression and anxiety. Research has suggested that the use of phones, tablets and laptops before bed can interfere with the release of the sleep hormone melatonin which can lead to poor quality sleep. Social media has also been linked to poor self-esteem and body image. Whilst traditionally young women have been the ones who have suffered from body image issues, we are now seeing a large proportion of young men also experiencing the same body issues by trying to live up to an unrealistic expectation.

Studies have demonstrated the link between greater body concerns and the pressure to change physical appearances after spending time on social media. Unfortunately, young people can easily use social media as a tool of comparison. They often forget that in this digital age, photos can be easily manipulated and are very seldom a true reflection of another's life. This exposes young people to unrealistic standards that can leave them feeling deflated about their own life.

Suggestions have been made for popular social media platforms like Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram to provide usage warnings to alert users when they have exceeded a set time that could be potentially harmful. Warnings provide users with advice about the potential detrimental impact social media can have on mental health and information about where to seek help, if necessary. A warning would allow a young person to make an informed decision about whether to continue to spend more time on the social media platform.

It is important to note that, when social media is used mindfully, it can be a positive outlook for those experiencing mental health issues. It can provide a platform for people to voice their experiences and for others to relate to those experiences, connect and support one another. Starting conversations about mental health is important, and sometimes social media can allow people to have access to support when they do not have the opportunity to do this face to face.

With the ever-increasing popularity of social media, and its addictive nature, it is vital that we understand how to manage the good and the bad that comes from this platform in order to support our young people. With depression and anxiety on the rise amongst young people, it is difficult to discount social media as a contributing factor to this. It is important that our young people are aware of the risks and are equipped with the skills to manage this.

If you or someone you know needs help, support or advice:

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Beyondblue: 1300 22 4636 Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800 Mental Health Emergency: 13 14 65