Social media use and mental health challenges

In today’s digital age, social media has become an integral part of the lives of young individuals. It provides a platform for communication, expression, and the sharing of ideas. However, the excessive use of social media among youth has raised concerns about its potential negative effects on mental health.

The excessive and mindless consumption of social media content is silently taking toll on the mental health and overall well-being of our youth in Tanzania and worldwide especially Gen-Z.

Gen-Z are people who were born between 1997-2012 and these teenagers and young adults are considered to be the generation that are shaped by the digital age and are regarded the true natives of the digital era. But others say Generation Z comprises people born between 1996 and 2010.

In my opinion, after a careful observation there are three mental conditions that are either linked to excessive social media use or if someone is already suffering from these conditions his/her conditions is likely to get worse.

The first one is ADHD which stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, a mental condition that affects a child’s ability to sustain attention, remain still and self-control.

The second Dysmorphia or Body dysmorphia, a mental condition in which a person become worried about their body appearances and feel like they are not good looking enough causing low self-esteem, for instance a person may look at her reflection in the mirror and think, “I am not beutiful enough, “I’m not muscular enough”, or even her body complexion and skin tone (I’m not as light skin as .someone else…).

And last is the widely known, Depression  a common mental health problem in which a person experiences persistent sadness, loss of interest in once enjoyable activities, develop a sense  guilt and low self-worth to the point that it effects their social ,work life and overall wellbeing..

One thing majority of youth don’t understand is that, these platforms like Tik Tok or Instagram are often filled with carefully curated and filtered representations of others’ lives.

Now the problem is the constant exposure to idealized images and experiences can lead to negative self-comparisons, contributing to feelings of inadequacy, isolation, and ultimately depression to Gen.Z

Online harassment, cyberbullying, are common and prevalent issues among youth on social media platforms.

The anonymity and distance provided by social media platforms can embolden individuals to engage in harmful behaviour, because sometimes a comment on a social media post can be haranguing causing significant emotional distress, anxiety, and depression to victims.

In essence social media are like chaotic marketplaces everyone is doing anything randomly and sharing instantly, some share family photos, achievements of milestones, romantic adventures, friends’ night- out or even photos of their favourite celebrity in town for concerts.

All these creates a sense of constant connectivity and the fear of missing out on exciting events or experiences shared by others. This fear can intensify feelings of loneliness and isolation, leading to depressive symptoms.

Even in our homes nowadays you will see your daughter scrolling through her phone with her left hand and suddenly bursting into teary laughter because someone got pranked, and the family is at the dinner table. The bond between technology and teenagers is so strong sometimes you ask yourself “What do they really stare at all the time,”?

When we were growing up in the mid 90s technology was there but it wasn’t as engaging and stupefying as today. Sometimes I make joke with friends about technology and teens, “you know technology is equally funny and dangerous at the same time.

You open a video catalogue on your teenage daughter’s iPad and what you find is just an overly sexualized and humanized portraits of hyperealistic images or short videos of animals singing and they love these things.

Kids are so desensitized to the outdoors nowadays they just hangout with strangers online.

The emphasis on appearance and the proliferation of heavily edited and filtered images on social media can distort young individuals’ perception of beauty.

Constant exposure to unrealistic standards can contribute to body dysmorphia, leading to low self-esteem, disordered eating, and mental health issues. Girls and boys apply filters on photos, or begin punitive diet routine, everyone is light skin and dietitians,they do not want to embrace their African heritage, It is a manifestation of dysmorphic disorders, they feel that there is something wrong with their bodies and skin tone.

I do not want to mention fake ” cat-walks” as self proclaimed city girls call it, that will be a discussion for another day. And body image concerns affects female more than male teenagers and young adults.

The culture of likes, comments, and followers on social media platforms has led to a significant focus on external validation. Young people may feel compelled to constantly seek approval, which can negatively impact their self-worth and perpetuate body images related struggles. I often see people on Twitter asking to be followed, and a person with more followers regards themselves as celebrities.

Because of the rapid-paced nature of social media, with its constant notifications, scrolling feeds, and short attention spans required for consuming content, can worsen  attention deficits among young people with Attention Deficit -hyperactivity Disorders( ADHD).

The continuous notification overload may hinder their ability to concentrate, leading to increased frustration and decreased productivity.

On top of that social media encourages instant gratification, impulsive sharing, and immediate responses. For individuals with ADHD, these characteristics can further intensify impulsive behaviours, contributing to difficulties in self-regulation and making ADHD symptoms worse.

To overcome the above mentioned dangers of social media here are the steps and strategies I think if adopted can help ameliorate the situation.

First, we have to educate young individuals about the potential risks and consequences posed by excessive social media use, alarming them on the manipulative tactics used by these platforms teach them to critically analyse and evaluate contents.

Second, families should foster real-world connections, promote outdoor activities, hobbies sports and social connections and socializing in real life counteract the isolation caused by excessive social media use.

Thirdly, teenagers should be taught to set healthy boundaries and time limits for social media use. Technology free period bring back the balance in their lives and restore mental well-being. Just switch off phones and log out for a while.

Fourth, encourage young individuals to engage in meaningful conversations and build personal connections beyond the digital realm. This can help restore a sense of community and strengthen relationships.

Fifth, parents and guardians should encourage self-acceptance and self-compassion, emphasizing that everyone’s journey is unique and should not be solely influenced by social media comparisons. And when the symptoms becomes unbearable   encourage young individuals to seek support from trusted adults, friends, or mental health professionals if they are experiencing symptoms of depression, dysmorphia, or ADHD.

Therapy and counselling can also provide valuable tools and strategies to manage these challenges effectively. Practices like meditation, and self-care routines can help young individuals cultivate emotional resilience, reduce stress, and prioritize their mental well-being.

Through encouraging youth to follow social media accounts that promote authenticity, add values to their lives, body positivity, mental health awareness, and meaningful content. Inspire young individuals to be mindful of the accounts they engage with and seek positive influences. Not everything deserves your attention.

It is everyone‘s role to empower young people to navigate the digital landscape with ease while maintaining meaningful interactions. By adopting these strategies, I strongly believe we can help young individuals overcome the challenges posed by social media and cultivate a positive relationship with technology, their mental health and themselves.

 The writer can be reached via : tafakuri.tunduizi@yahoo.com

  Tel. No.255739185139

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