There’s been a lot written about the ills of social media. Whether it’s the negative effect Facebook and Instagram can have on our self-esteem, or issues of content creators with huge platforms of YouTube subscribers acting irresponsibly, the internet isn’t always the healthiest place to be.
That’s not to say that the internet is inherently unhealthy, though. There are a number of ways in which social media can benefit our mental health, and allow people to communicate openly and freely. To cut through some of the less savoury examples of social media use, it’s important to remember that it can be used as a tool or good too. Here are just some of the ways in which social media can be good for us.
Social Media Can Strengthen Our Relationships
Contrary to what many might think, social media use brings us closer together instead of pushing us further apart. Thanks to social media, families who are scattered across the globe can easily keep in touch and share important life moments. Likewise, couples in long-distance relationships never need to feel too far apart thanks to being connected online.
According to sociologist, Barry Wellman, from the University of Toronto social media doesn’t replace traditional forms of communication – it adds to them. It gives us a greater scope to communicate and share our lives, and in this way can be incredibly positive. Wellman also found that people typically spend more time online than they do watching TV, suggesting that our social lives have been enriched by the advent of social media as we spend more time communicating than we previously did.
We’re lucky to live in a world where we can easily express ourselves or comfort our loved ones, wherever they are, with just the touch of a button. So tag your friend in another meme, or send your parents a quick message. You’re ultimately strengthening your relationships whenever you touch base.
The Ability to Build Communities
There’s no greater tool for bringing people together than the internet. This is especially true for people who feel they are lacking a community, or who otherwise would be living lives of loneliness. A good example of this is the positive effect social media access is having on the lives of the elderly.
Seniors are signing up to social networking sites and apps at ever-increasing rates, usually to keep in touch with their families, to stay informed on current affairs, and to find communities of like-minded individuals. This can have an amazing effect on both their mental health, and their cognitive abilities into old age. Recent studies have shown that elderly people who engage in online activities have better cognition and physical health than those who do not.
Social media can also help create communities for those living with chronic and lifelong illnesses, who otherwise feel like their friends or families cannot understand their struggles. It allows people to find others who can empathize, and offer advice and friendship.
Social Media Use Can Facilitate Help-Seeking
The anonymity of the internet can often bring out the worst in people, and rightly comes under fire by critics. However, the anonymity and detachment of the internet can also be of a benefit to many. The relative detachment of communicating online often allows people to seek help for their problems in a way that feels less frightening and less likely to result in judgement than real-life cries for help.
There have been a number of studies relating to help-seeking behaviors online, which found that young people especially turn to the internet in times of distress. For this reason, greater online infrastructure is being worked towards to allow these people to get the help they need.
Consider, for a moment, the outpourings of support and information on hotlines and help centers that come in the wake of deaths by suicide in the media. Thanks to social media, people who might be struggling with mental health issues have greater access to information and help than ever before. The internet offers them a safe space where they can speak openly about their pain, and often find someone who will listen or at the very least point them in the direction of a professional.
There’s a lot to criticize social media for, but there’s a lot to praise too. Like any great innovation, it can be used in a myriad of ways. While it’s imperative that we continue to acknowledge the flaws of our online culture, it’s important not to let the more positive aspects get lost in the fray either.
Thanks to social media, we’re becoming a closer, more supportive, and more understanding society. Regardless of how you feel about social media in the abstract, the effects its had on the lives of many are certainly worth celebrating.