For most people, social media is a daily staple in their lives. From the moment we wake until the time we go to sleep we are tuning in, downloading, uploading and scrolling our way through various networking platforms.
It’s no surprise that, as social media continues to integrate further into society, numerous consequences related to ongoing use – both positive and negative – are being discovered.
University of Canberra Clinical Psychology Course Director and practicing clinical psychologist Dr Vivienne Lewis specialises in mental health and wellbeing and is seeing a rise in cases related to the increased use of social media. She is more aware than most about social media becoming the new normal for adults and children alike.
“Social media means that we have so many more resources than we ever did, and that information is right at our fingertips,” she said.
“There are so many benefits to social media so it’s easy to see why people get addicted. It connects people, it’s interesting, and people can feel part of groups – so there is a community feel as well.”
Vivienne says an example of this sense of community could be seen across social media during the summer bushfires throughout eastern Australia. Even while the crisis was ongoing, offers of help flooded social platforms and significant amounts of money were raised to support the communities affected by the fires.
As the bushfire season progressed, however, she also saw an increase in cases of people showing distress as a result of the images and news they were viewing on social media platforms.
“People are coming forward quite distressed because they’re constantly seeing images of burning fires, injured animals, and people who have lost houses,” she said.
“We found that because so many different agencies and users are putting out information about the fires, people are either distressed to the point where they’re constantly hyperalert or anxious, or to the point where they become desensitised to that information and it loses impact.”
Classrooms around the country could also be impacted by the availability of social media and technology. With many children now required to use technology throughout the school day – giving them access to various channels – Vivienne says she often wonders whether the benefits outweigh the risks.
“Many school children now not only have access to iPads and phones, but are actually required to use them as part of their studies at school,” she said.
“Kids who have previously had to go to the library and look in an encyclopedia can now access information straightaway, which is making for more informed children.”
“It does mean there is a change in how classrooms look in 2020. You’ll often see teachers standing at the back of classrooms monitoring what children are looking at on their devices rather than being up the front and teaching.”
Given the access that children have, Vivienne notes that she is seeing a trend of body dissatisfaction stemming from social media usage, particularly in young people.
“You do find that a lot of adolescents are constantly looking at sites that are body-image based and they desire that look. They’re trying to get that perfect image, so a whole lot of these young people are dissatisfied or even being bullied for their looks,” she said.
“Wanting to change the way you look didn’t start with social media, but now it is normal for everyone to be on it and so it’s very hard for kids to get away from those images.”
A reduction in screen time is something that Vivienne believes could reduce these effects.
“When you’re in front of a screen you’re often missing out on being in the moment and taking in what is going on in front of you,” she says.
“Check whether you’re engaged with what’s happening around you and if you’re communicating properly with the people around you.”
With social media now as much a part of a daily routine as brushing your teeth, Vivienne believes it will continue its fusion into society.
“I imagine as time goes on social media will only become more prevalent. We accept now that it is a normal thing. I’d really encourage everyone to get back to basics once in a while and do things that make you feel good, like your hobbies, exercising and chilling out.”
“Keep having that face-to-face communication with people, because at the end of the day that is how you build relationships.”
Words by Elly Mackay.