Social Media And Mental Health

An in-depth analysis of the history of social media and their effects on mental health.

Abhishek Hari
7 min readOct 1, 2023
Photo by Gaspar Uhas on Unsplash

We have developed a lot, we have developed so much that we are now living in the digital age. Since the early 2000s, digital products were going mainstream. But the one thing that revolutionized the digital world as we know it? The iPhone. Debuted to the world in 2007, since then, it has taken over the world. Generally speaking and not limiting my words to the iPhone, smartphones have played a huge role in making changes in the world.

To be frank, we cannot live without our phones. Our phones play a huge part in our lives and we need to have an essential workflow. From making phone calls to checking mails and to watch videos on YouTube as you eat your food and scroll mindlessly through Instagram digesting nothing of significance, the smartphone belongs to everyone.

With the introduction of the iPhone (and general smartphones), a curse was created, namely, social media. And even before that, social media sites were already up and running, the biggest of them all, Facebook, was launched in 2003. In just 10 months, it surpassed 10 million users. It was nothing of an addiction back then. Many people did not have phones or computers, so they lived life happily. But once smartphones went mainstream, Facebook was used even more. By 2012, Facebook had surpassed 1 billion users. Facebook was widely used after that. Eventually though, Facebook sort of died with the youth population, because something way cooler was made — Instagram.

Instagram was launched in 2010. In just over 4 months, it surpassed 1 million users. It was an instant hit for the youth. It was an app that allowed people to share images of what was going on in their lives. Pretty straight forward, right? It was used by students in high schools and universities to share their life and for friends living far away to catch up on each others’ lives. In 2012, it was acquired by the monstrous Facebook inc. for $1 billion. Instagram received various updates, but the most notable one was just launched recently — Instagram Reels. Reels is Instagram’s take on TikTok, before I talk about Reels, I want to talk about TikTok, the singular app that ruined the attention span of billions across the world. was an app that allowed users to create short, lip-sync videos. It was used by influencers to reenact viral songs while dancing to it. But just after two years of its launch, it was shut down and was replaced by its successor, TikTok. Launched in September of 2016, TikTok basically introduced short-form content. In a world that was dominated by long-form content ranging from 10–30 minute YouTube videos, TikTok changed that. TikTok only allowed users to record and post videos up to one minute only. This changed everything. Now, instead of long videos, users were subjected to way shorter ones. This short videos usually consisted of people dancing, lip-syncing or vlogging, but mostly dancing. TikTok was a wonder to the world. In just 9 months, TikTok reached 100 million users. Everything was going great until it all fell apart, privacy allegations were raised against TikTok. Apparently, China-based employees had access to users’ sensitive data including their location. This was not taken well by several countries. In June 2020, India hit the ban-hammer on TikTok and 58 other Chinese apps. TikTok had over 200 million users just in India and 150 million were monthly active. Other countries are slowly starting to ban it too.

Taking inspiration from TikTok, or literally ripping it off, various other social media giants tried their own hand in making their own version of TikTok. Though the two most prominent ones are undoubtedly Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts.

Soon after TikTok privacy allegations and its ban in India, in August of 2020, Instagram Reels was launched. It was just like TikTok, but on Instagram. Just a month later, YouTube rolled out their copy of TikTok, YouTube Shorts. Reels and Shorts are basically the same thing, except they are owned by Facebook and Google respectively.

Now, how do these social media ruin one’s mental health? Good thing you asked. Grab some popcorn and get ready to know just how these apps are obliterating one’s mental health.

First, I want to start with Instagram. Remember how I said Instagram was just a little cozy app for friends to share their life? Well, things started to become a little competitive. The app started to sway from its intentional purpose and people started to post things that one might not be able to digest. See, the brain can’t stand FOMO or fear of missing out, so when people post pictures of them enjoying vacations, one will of course feel angry that they can’t go on such vacations as well. Furthermore, seeing others’ pictures of their body causes insecurity. These are just some examples of how such small things can hurt one’s mental health. What’s worse is Instagram Reels. It’s just literal mindless scrolling. You just use your thumb or index finger to swipe every free minute you get. You won’t even remember what you swiped through.

The same thing is what goes on with TikTok, it is worse, it is designed in such a way that it prioritizes user watch time over everything. The algorithm will try its best to keep you from closing the app.

If social media is used properly, it can be for the good. X, for example (Formerly known as Twitter), will pay you actual money if you have 5 million views or more a month and subscribed to X Premium. This actually makes writing content on the internet worth it. But let me warn you, it’s extremely hard to get seen on X. It takes years and years to build up a following, and still you won’t get much views without subscribing to X. Twitter has become what gamers would call a “pay-to-win” platform. Literally, you pay to get seen.

That brings me to the next cause of degradation of mental health. Lack of followers. Some people get upset because they do not have a good following. What upsets people even more is that their content is just not being seen by the world. I totally understand that. It hurts when your content is being seen, it has happened to me and it still does. I’ve always wanted to get boosted on Medium, I want my articles to reach the world, even if it benefits the life of one person, I’ll happily take that. In fact, that is happening to me. Quite some people have commented on my posts about them being helpful and that makes me happy! I am not planning to quit because I’m not getting any views, no one should quit due to the lack of views, you just have to keep doing what you are doing right now. If you are a writer on Medium, keep writing. Don’t stop. If you are trying to build a following on X, don’t stop, keep posting until one of your posts go viral and get a hundred thousand likes. If you are a YouTuber, don’t stop uploading. Upload until you have built a community that you’re proud of.

Social media is not easy. You just have to keep trying. It has millions and billions of active users and you are one of them. It’s a website on the internet and you shouldn’t trade your mental health for it. We all have dreams of getting internet famous, but we can’t let our soul be shaken. Social media is a hit or miss. You get famous or you don’t.

Also, I’ve seen countless videos and articles about how people are trying to get rid of their phone. I used to believe it too that our phone was the reason our mental health was degrading. But I was wrong. The actual culprit it social media. When people want to get rid of their phones, all they really need to do is get rid of social media. Without social media, what exactly are we spending our time on on our phones?

Research shows that on average, people spend 3 hours and 15 minutes on their phone per day, checking their phones 58 times a day. Furthermore, 3 in 4 Gen Zers claim to spend too much time on their phones.

A social media research shows that 51.8% of people use social media because of boredom.

Boredom. It’s always boredom. Boredom makes people dive into mindless scrolling. There are a million other things to do than scrolling through social media. The best thing you could do is read a book, or just something else.

Social media is addictive. It’s true, there’s no denying. But it significantly reduces productivity. It’s totally okay to use social media on a daily basis, but you should be mindful. You should scroll for a bit and stop. You shouldn’t waste your time, instead, you have to tell yourself what to do. I’m no one to tell you what you should do, you should take a stand for yourself and set limits to how much you can scroll.

If you rely on social media for news, read a newspaper or go on some news site. If you use social media for that, you are bound to get distracted. Social media is like a black hole. Once you go near by it, it will suck you in.

You must prevent social media from being a stressor, social media is meant to entertain you, and you must let it do so and not vice versa.