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Hi there,

Are you one of the nearly 5 billion people on social media? Do you think it affects your mental health?

Indeed, wherever we turn, we’re reminded of the dangers of social media to our well-being: The U.S. Surgeon General released an advisory on social media and youth mental health earlier this year. Hundreds of schools have sued social media giants TikTok, Meta, Snapchat, and YouTube for fueling an unprecedented mental health crisis. And ‘doomscrolling’ was Macquarie Dictionary’s 2020 Word of the Year.

So what does the science say? 

  1. 1. Kids are different than adults. It can be harder for younger users to distinguish social media as different from real life. If you want to help a youngin in your life get social media literate, APA’s chief science officer offers a comprehensive guide

  2. 2. Like anything else, there are two sides to this coin. Social media can cause us harm, but it can also facilitate experiences that improve our mental health. We’ll explore them below. 

  3. 3. Let’s be clear: studies don't measure whether social media causes poor mental health – the correlation between the two could mean that social media enhances pre-existing anxiety or depression, or that individuals with subpar mental health are more likely to seek out these digital vices.

To help you remain reflective about your own relationship to it, today we’re exploring the less-cited research on how social media can impact our mental health. And of course, we’ll give some evidence-based tips for practicing healthy social media use. 

Until next time,
Sarah and the LinkedInfluencers @ TDL
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Today’s topics 👀
📱 DEEP DIVE: What’s the deal with social media?
🌱 FIELD NOTES: Supporting youth with e-Mental health
🗺️ VIEWPOINTS: How you can use it better
📱 What’s the deal with social media?

A well-cited blend of pitfalls occurs when we’re unable to engage with social media in a healthy manner. This often comes in the form of overuse, leading to loneliness, depression, decreased self-esteem, anxiety, FOMO, and difficulty with meaningful relationships. But what’s the other side of the social scientific dilemma?

+ Everyone is different. Like anything else, social media is contextual. Users are impacted by their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as external contexts. In fact, the positive and negative effects of social media can coexist in each of us

+ It can help us grow. It all comes down to how you use it, but social media can bring a wealth of benefits. It can facilitate professional growth, social connections, and social capital. Research even shows positive use can lead to flourishing: our ability to find meaning, fulfillment, and deeper connections with others.

+ We need downtime. “It's valuable for relaxation, which . . . gets a bad rap,” explains expert Angela Lee, from Stanford’s Social Media Lab. But social media can facilitate the downtime we need to recharge.
🎓 FIELD NOTES: Supporting youth with e-Mental health 🌱

Growing up has never been easy. But young people today face all kinds of challenges to their mental health, including the pressures of social media.

Kids Help Phone is Canada's only national, bilingual, 24/7 e-mental health solution for youth, supporting millions of kids, teens and young adults across the country.

In 2021, TDL partnered with them to reimagine the journey of accessing mental health care online. Together with KHP, we transformed Kids Help Phone’s website into an innovative gateway to e-mental health.

Read the full case study to learn how our work helps empower hundreds of thousands of youth across Canada every single month.

Two teens looking off to the side of the screen and smiling
🗺️ How you can use it better

+ “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Turns out President Roosevelt was right: Comparing ourselves to others drives the correlation between social media use and negative well-being, according to Harvard research fellow Laura Marciano. Stay away from counting likes or comparing your successes to others. 

+ Decrease your usage. Regular use doesn’t have to mean overuse. An English study found that a 15-minute reduction per day can lead to improved vitality, physical health, and social functioning. Try cutting back your usage to explore the benefits.

+ Take stock of spillover effects. Psychology Professor Karen North recommends this litmus test: How does social media usage impact your relationships and responsibilities? If you function normally, don’t stress. If social media leads you to ignore your loved ones or endlessly procrastinate, start reducing your use. 

+ Instead of detox, get defensive. A review of 21 studies on social media detoxes found mixed results: sometimes it helped, sometimes it didn’t, and a couple times, detoxes even had negative results. Instead, practice ‘defensive driving’: increase your literacy and implement strategies to avoid triggers.  

+ Don't sleep on your health. The importance of sleep can’t be understated – and that goes double for youth. One of the negative spillover effects of social media is fewer hours of sleep and exercise. Ensure social media use doesn’t impact your 8 hours of sleep or time for movement.

According to a U.S. survey from February, 29% of adults reported that social media had neither a positive nor negative effect on their mental health. One in ten users said that online platforms had a very positive effect on their mental health; the same amount of users said it had a very negative effect.

From Statista: According to a U.S. survey from February, 29% of adults reported that social media had neither a positive nor negative effect on their mental health. One in ten users said that online platforms had a very positive effect on their mental health; the same amount of users said it had a very negative effect.


Negativity Bias

We love to share social and emotional stories – it’s in our evolutionary roots to gossip at the water cooler.

But our desire to hear the latest drama is also why we succumb to the rampant doom and gloom on social media. Before we know it, we’re gripped by negativity bias.

And what’s worse, our social feeds match our energy: negative stories spread much faster than positive ones. Who can resist a good headline bashing their favorite love-to-hate politician or billionaire?

As contributor Paridhi Kothari puts it, “[Social media] algorithms are essentially amoral: they have no sense of right or wrong, and are only sensitive to what works to maximize attention. As a result, algorithmic biases overlap with human biases to serve up more negativity and moral outrage.” Read more in her piece on Social Media and Moral Outrage.

What's new at TDL?

Wow, two new things? It's a record. 

  1. 1. Do you know any behaviorally-savvy university students or recent grads? We’re hosting our first-ever student writing contest!

    We’re looking for articles that can clearly communicate innovative applications of behavioral science, with a Grand Prize of $1000. Check out the guidelines here.

  2. 2. Want to help us out with a 3-minute survey? We wanna know how our ever-evolving online search preferences are changing in this new age of AI. You can make our day by taking the survey here.

TDL is hiring! We’re hiring for a number of positions, both remote and based in our Montreal office. Some open roles include: 

  • Associate Project Leader

Find out more by visiting our careers portal.

Want to have your voice heard? We'd love to hear from you. Reply to this email to share your thoughts, feedback, and questions with the TDL team.

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