A woman lays in bed, zoned out while staring at her phone, depicting the potential negative consequences of social media use on mental well-being.

How Social Media Affects Your Mental Health and Causes Depression

by | Mar 15, 2024 | Blog

We all know that humans are social creatures, and with that in mind, it’s no wonder that social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and Snapchat are so popular. People use these platforms to share their thoughts and experiences and connect with friends from around the globe. While there are lots of positive aspects to using social media, there are also many negatives. 

Social media can never be a substitute for real-world human connection. The things that people crave about socializing – the feel-good hormones that leave you feeling happy after hanging out with good friends or family – require in-person contact and cannot be released through a screen. 

With time, excessive social media use can actually make people feel even more lonely and isolated, leading to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. 

In this article, we examine the connection between social media and mental health, looking at how excessive social media use can cause symptoms of depression. We also offer signs that social media is impacting your mood and provide guidance on how to change your social media habits to improve your mental health. 

Positive effects of social media

Before we dive into the harmful effects of social media, let’s take some time to acknowledge its positives. The many positive effects of social media include: 

  • Being able to communicate with friends and family from around the world
  • Meeting new friends and finding communities of people with shared interests and experiences,
  • Joining or promoting important causes and spreading awareness,
  • Finding or offering emotional support to those who need it, 
  • Making social connections when you live in a remote area, have social anxiety, or are part of a marginalized group,
  • Sharing your creativity and thoughts with the world, 
  • Learning about various topics of interest from experts who share their knowledge. 

Negative effects of social media

Now that we’ve acknowledged the many positive aspects of social media, let’s take some time to consider its negative effects. These include:

  • Feelings of inadequacy: A lot of what we see on social media is a ‘highlight reel’ of someone’s life, showing them at their happiest moments when they are looking their best. We don’t get to see all the in-between moments, and that can often make people feel dissatisfied with their life or physical appearance. Even though most of us know that what we see on social media isn’t necessarily a reflection of reality, it’s hard to not compare our lives to those we see on the screen. 
  • Fear of missing out (FOMO): Another consequence of constantly being shown the best moments of people’s lives is feeling like you’re missing out. It’s easy to scroll through your social media feed and see pictures of friends hanging out, on holiday, or at parties. This can make a person feel like others are living better lives or having more fun than they are, lowering self-esteem and triggering anxiety. Often, people will start compulsively checking their phone to stay updated on what those around them are doing, reinforcing those feelings of missing out. 
  • Anxiety & depression: Although social media can be a great way to stay connected with friends and family, nothing can replace in-person, face-to-face contact that reduces stress and improves mood. The more people prioritize online interactions over seeing and talking to friends in person, the more likely they are to develop or worsen mood disorders like anxiety and depression. 
  • Cyberbullying: This cannot be overlooked when discussing the negative effects of social media, especially for young adults. The Pew Research Center has found that almost half of U.S. teens have reported being harassed or bullied online, where peers can spread rumors, post offensive comments, and partake in bullying behavior that affects youth mental health. 

Signs that social media is affecting your mental health

It’s clear that social media can be both a positive or negative influence in a person’s life. It’s not how often or when you access social media that plays a part, but how your social media use affects your mood and other aspects of your life. For example, if going on social media sites leaves you feeling upset, lonely, envious, angry, or depressed, then it may be an indicator that it’s affecting your mental health. 

Below, we outline some signs that social media may be affecting your psychological well being. 

  • You compare yourself to people you see on social media: Whether it’s your physical appearance or lifestyle, comparing yourself to what you see on social media can lead to depressive symptoms like low self-esteem, disordered eating, dissatisfaction with your life, and a negative body image. 
  • Spending more time on social media than with friends: If social media has started to replace in-person interactions, you might find yourself feeling more depressed and isolated. On the other hand, if you’re constantly checking social media even when you’re out with friends, you may be experiencing FOMO or becoming dissatisfied with your current surroundings. 
  • You have no time for self-reflection: When all of your free time is spent engaging on social media, you have little time to reflect on yourself, your thoughts and beliefs, your life, and your everyday actions. Self-reflection is what allows you to grow and develop as a person, and without adequate time to self-reflect, you may find yourself stagnating and feeling depressed as you feel disconnected from yourself and your life. 
  • Difficulty sleeping: If checking social media is the last thing you do before bed, the first thing you do in the morning, and something you do when you wake up during the night, it’s a sign of unhealthy usage that could be affecting your sleep. Blue light from phones and the stimulating aspect of social media content can disrupt sleep. As a result, your mood can be affected during the day and worsen feelings of anxiety or depression. 
  • Being distracted at work or school: Your social media use can start to affect your work or school life, leading you to constantly want to make posts, respond to comments or messages, and check how people are interacting with your content. 
  • Feelings of anxiety or depression: Instead of feeling entertained and inspired after looking at social media, if you feel more depressed, anxious, or lonely, it’s a sign that it’s having a negative effect on your mental health. 

Generally, unhealthy social media use can turn into a vicious cycle that reinforces feelings of loneliness and depression:


  1. You might use social media more often when you feel lonely, depressed, anxious, or stressed.
  2. Using social media too often will exacerbate feelings of inadequacy, dissatisfaction, loneliness, and FOMO.
  3. These feelings will negatively affect your mental health and worsen symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  4. When your mental health is worse, you’ll want to use social media even more to numb yourself and feel connected. The cycle continues. 

This depression self-assessment can help you better understand whether your feelings are symptoms of depression. 

How to change social media habits to improve mental health

If you feel that social media is affecting your mental health, there are some things you can do to reduce its harmful effects. 

One study in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology found that reducing your social media usage to just 30 minutes a day significantly reduced feelings of anxiety, depression, loneliness, FOMO, and sleep issues. But going from hours spent on social media to just 30 minutes a day can feel impossible. 

If you’d like to decrease the time you spend on social media, the easiest way is to reduce how often you use your phone and be mindful of its use. Below, we have some tips to help. 

How to reduce time spent on social media

  • Slowly reduce screen time: Check your screen time to see how much time you spend on social media each day. Try to set a goal to reduce that time by a reasonable amount. For example, if you’re on social media for 3 hours a day you might try to aim for 2.5 hours a day and slowly decrease from there. 
  • Switch it off: Turn off your phone during the day, like when you’re studying, working, driving, eating meals, spending time with friends, or doing housework. Having your phone switched off will reduce the pull of social media and allow you to spend some time in ‘the real world’ without being distracted. The more time you spend off your phone, the easier it will be to cut back your social media usage. 
  • Leave it outside: Don’t charge your phone or tablet in your bedroom during the night. Instead, leave them in another room to charge. This will help you avoid using your devices right before bed or first thing in the morning. If you need to set an alarm, consider investing in an alarm clock. 
  • No notifications: Turn off social media notifications so you’re not constantly being interrupted with new messages, comments, and updates throughout the day. Without notifications, you might find yourself naturally checking social media less, helping reduce the time you spend on it without exerting too much effort.
  • Delete apps: You might want to try deleting social media apps like Instagram, TikTok, or Facebook from your phone. Instead, you can access these platforms from your desktop computer or tablet. If this seems too difficult, try removing one app at a time. 
  • Limit checks: Try to be mindful of how often you check your phone during the day. If you compulsively check your phone every few minutes, try to cut this down to just once every ten minutes. If you find yourself reaching for it, be aware and resist the urge. As it gets easier, you can then increase this time to once every 20 minutes and so on. 
  • Consider your motivation: One way to reduce the time you spend on social media is to consider why you’re logging on. If you’re checking social media to message a friend or share a photo or message, your experience might be different than if you’re hopping on because you’re bored, want to see if you’re missing out on something, or want to check how much engagement you got on your last post. Consider your motivation and try to only use social media if you feel your motivation will lead to a positive experience rather than one that leaves you feeling down. 

Help is available when you need it

If you feel that social media is making you feel depressed, lonely, dissatisfied, and negatively impacting your life, help is available. While it’s always best to limit or be mindful of your usage, speaking to a mental healthcare provider can help you find other treatment options to improve your mood and make it easier to slowly change your habits. 

At BestMind Behavioral Health, we specialize in depression treatment and mental healthcare, including medication management, ADHD testing, TMS therapy. We offer both telehealth and in-person consultations at our clinics in Colorado and Oregon, so you can find the care you need in a way that works for you. 

Get in touch with our team now or click here to book an appointment at one of our clinics. You can also explore mental health resources on our blog.