How Social Media can aect College Students and their Mental Health.
Eema Ibrahim Follow May 4, 2018 · 5 min read
When you think of “social media,” what do you think of? Facebook? Social networking? A distraction? What about college students and mental health?
One of the biggest challenges college students face today is struggling with mental health. College is a time to explore and learn new things. But as college students, it can be hard sometimes to balance school, work, and being social while also trying to take care of our physical and mental health. According to, mental health includes our “emotional, psychological, and social well-being.” It affects how we think, feel, and act and helps to determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.
On top of all the stress from studying, writing papers, and involvements on campus, we are constantly distracted by our phones but more specifically social media. We live in a digital age where almost everything is available online and when it comes to social media usage among college students, one thing is clear: it has become apart of our everyday life and has allowed us to be more connected than ever. But, is using it too much bad for us and does it further affect our mental health?
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Pros and Cons of using Social Media in College, *Sources: Pros and Cons of Social Media Usage for Students, How bad is social media for your mental health?
Negative effects on Mental Health Many studies have been done related to the negative and positive effects social media may have on college students and their mental health.
The most common issues associated with college students mental health and social media use is depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, body image, sleeping problems, social isolation, and emotional difficulties. About 41.6% of college students have stated that anxiety is a top concern. In an article by The Conversation, 1 in 5 college students have anxiety or depression and excessive usage of social media may be a leading factor in symptoms.
Another common issue within the scopes of social media is comparing ourselves to what we see on others people’s profiles online and creating “unrealistic expectations” as to how we should look, act, or feel. For example, if we see someone on Instagram or Snapchat enjoying themselves and having the “perfect life,” it may create feelings of jealousy or envy. By viewing other profiles, we develop impressions that others are living a better life. In fact, we may sometimes see “edited versions” of people’s lives, meaning that the content they post may not be an authentic reflection of how they feel. This can often lead to idealized versions and “competitions” between one’s real life and one’s virtual life.
In an article by the Huffington Post, Dr. Anne Marie Albano, director of the Columbia University Clinic For Anxiety and Related Disorders explained that social media can act as a “counterfeit reality” for students who are unable to cope with their circumstances.
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“Social media and other technologies can give an individual a false sense of having true relationships, which can get in the way of developing peer support and mentor relationships,” Albano said. “In actuality, they never cross over to make an engaging relationship with such people in the real world.”
In the same article, Dr. Gary Glass, the associate director of counseling and psychological services at Duke notes that the classroom is no longer the only environment that demands perfection.
“People tend to publish the most impressive, entertaining, and/or attractive versions of themselves on social media platforms,” Glass said. “This can create a false impression of how much happier or more successful others are.”
Effects on Academics When it comes to academics, studies have shown that student are more likely to participate in drinking and doing drugs, not studying for exams or working on assignments or paying attention in class, and lower grades and GPAs*
*However, there have been other studies showing no correlations between social media usage and its effects on grades.
I spoke to a few University of Minnesota — Duluth students to determine if some of this applies to college students. One student believed that social media may have a slight impact on her mental health especially with comparing herself to others but overall it is mostly a distraction.
“As a college student, it’s really hard to keep up with everything from school to work to family so I think social media is a great tool to have. Sometimes I’ll see my friends having fun and think I wish I was there or I’ll even compare myself to ‘other college students’ on Instagram. Social media also helps me to express my frustrations sometimes about school especially on sites like Twitter. But, it is definitely a distraction especially when I am trying to get my work done.”
Another said, “I only use it if I have to and mostly to connect with classmates and family and when I am bored or need a break from school. I really try not to go on it when I am
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working on assignments because I know once I go on it, it’ll be awhile before I get back to work.”
Although these response may not apply to the vast majority of college students, it does give an insight as to what some college students face when using social media.
The Positive Effects Social media does not have to be a bad thing for our mental health because along with the negatives, there are many positives. It allows us to share and connect with others in making it a little bit easier to participate in college life to learn about social events on campus and create social networks. While there may be certain issues associated with using social media, it also has the potential to help people, especially those struggling with mental health issues. It can be a place that provides peer-to-peer and emotional support and validate us if we tend to share something that is vulnerable for us to share in real life especially if it involves our mental health.
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So what do you do if you feel like social media is impacting your mental health and academics and what can you do to not necessarily eliminate social media from your life but use it in a more positive way?
During times when you are feeling down or anxious, it is best to try to avoid using social media to eliminate the comparison factor. Also, consider taking a social media break or “detox,” for a few hours or even days especially when it comes to mental health and academics.
Social media is obviously a great tool and has both negatives and positives effect on our emotional well-being. It’s impact on our mental health can depend on a number of factors including how we use it. It is hard for college students to avoid social media sometimes but knowing how it may have an affect on mental health can help us make better decisions on how we use it.

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