All of us have used social media in our daily lives in some form or another. From sending tweets, recording our cats doing goofy things and posting them online, snapping a picture of your meal that someone else cooked for you and arguing over nothing online but do we know the consequences of the effects of social media on our health.

Social media is a diverse and rapidly growing amalgamation of technologies that create online blocks of ideas, arguments and beliefs. It is as diverse as human cultures and is responsible for bringing people who share same ideas together.

No one can deny the importance of social media in our lives, our lives are practically dependent on it. It’s just the way society has molded our minds and made us used to the ability to share the first thing that comes in our mind with the whole planet from the comfort of our toilet seat.

Teenagers are at the most risk since they are more exposed to the latest trends being followed by all the cool kids and are more keen to impress their peers and as a result fall victim to peer pressure.

So What Is Social Media?

Social media can refer to any websites or smartphone apps that help people connect with others and share information, through a server- based network. The information can be shared through videos, messages or audio. It’s not just individuals who are using social media, many companies use social media for advertisement to promote themselves and their product.

According to Nielsen, Internet users continue to spend more time with social media sites than any other type of site. At the same time, the total time spent on social media in the U.S. across PC and mobile devices increased by 99 percent to 121 billion minutes in July 2012 compared to 66 billion minutes in July 2011.

The largest social media platform is Facebook, which has 1.65 billion monthly active users, the number has grown 15% year by year. (Source: Facebook as of 4/27/16) Twitter is second with 1.3 billion registered users. YouTube comes at third with 1 billion users with people viewing round about 4 billion videos every day.

How Social Media Harms Individuals?

Teens are getting more and more touchy these days with the content being put out on social media these days, especially if it involves them or their friends. A new study has found that teenagers who use social media during nighttime damage their sleep cycles and increase risk of anxiety and depression. The study was conducted by a team of researchers from Glasgow University.

More than 460 university students of secondary school were questioned about their social media habits and their sleep timings. It was found that students who engaged in late night social media activity were sleep deprived.

The study, however, could not establish that if they were sleeping late due to social media usage or if they were using social media because they couldn’t sleep. In many cases the students were using more than one electronic devices such as smartphones and tablets, to engage in social media activities.

In addition to asking the children about their social media habits, the children who aged from age 11 to 17 were also asked a questionnaire which measured their quality of sleep, self- esteem, levels of anxiety and depression. They were also asked about social pressure when they couldn’t be available online or couldn’t immediately respond to a message.

The results found that late night social media activities especially those in late hours were resulting in poor sleep quality, depression, and increased levels of social anxiety. Perhaps the worst thing about this is that teenagers need more sleep than adults around 9.5 hours and only get about 7.5 hours, and lack of sleep makes them more fatigued, irritable and less attentive in school.

Girls Are More Likely To Turn To Social Media

Another study by the National Citizen’s Service youth program suggests that girls seek comfort from social media when they are anxious and worried.  The survey included 1000 girls from the age of 12 to 18. The results showed that 9 out of 10 girls had experienced stress in the past year and 7 out of 10 girls showed stress-related symptoms. The reason was that girl turned to social media to share their feelings, emotions and problems, rather than conversing with their family or friends.

The results showed that girls are more likely to be stressed than boys and more often than adults even, turning to social media average of twice a week. The leading cause of stress is tough life choices and decision paralysis that comes with them. The study found that the top three sources of stress for girls were exam results (57%), making decisions about the future (37%) and arguments with friends (36%).

Social Media’s Addictive Nature

Social media is addictive, studies show that 63% of Americans log onto Facebook daily and 43% use Facebook multiple times in a day, their reason mostly being to zone out from daily life stresses and to get rid of boredom. What is more interesting is the fact that people who are more insecure or socially anxious tend to turn towards social media more often. Moreover the excessive information we see on our “timelines” can deteriorate short term memory and limit our decision making capabilities.

Moreover we become dependent on social media. There is a condition known as Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) that occurs when we feel extreme anxiety and pressure to do what everyone is doing, share every thought and feeling with everyone. The phenomenon gives us a false sense of belonging, and once we feel part of a group and do not follow through we feel left out and become a victim of social anxiety.

Surveys have even found that people feel insecure after using Pinterest because they feel that they aren’t crafty or creative enough. Facebook and Twitter can make people feel like they aren’t successful or smart enough.

Social media is not just about connecting with friends and family or opening your personal baggage with the whole world. More often than not, people especially young adults glamourize their lives by portraying themselves as rich and successful.

Social Media And Substance Abuse

Social media glamourizes drug and alcohol abuse. According to the 2011 National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XVI: Teens and Parents, American teens aged from 12 to 17 who frequently visit social media websites are at an increased risk of alcohol, tobacco and drug abuse. The surveyors asked the participants if they visited social media sites. 70% said they use social networking sites daily, compared to 30% who did not.

The study found out that the students who visited social networks were five times more likely to 5 times likelier to use tobacco, 3 times likelier to use alcohol, twice as likely to use marijuana compared to those who did not use social media websites. The survey was conducted by CASAColumbia at Columbia University.

The researchers found that these increased odds of substance abuse can be linked to the fact that teens who use social media websites are more exposed to pictures of people indulging in drug or alcohol use, hence they are more likely to be influenced by such pictures and eventually experiment with drugs and alcohol.

According to a survey, people who visit social websites are more likely to do so while multitasking. Multitasking has its own problems, since people feel they are accomplishing more work in the same duration. In reality it’s far from the correct assessment, since multitaskers can’t focus on any given task in a particular timeframe.

Cyberbullying And Issues Of Privacy

Cyberbullying is another harmful outcome of social media. Cyberbullying is the phenomenon is which digital media is deliberately used to target individuals into manipulation, harassment and often blackmail. Social media networks are the most likely targeted areas since users have made their information public so most people have access to it and can use false, embarrassing or hostile information to target their victims.

Victims of Cyberbullying feel alone, depressed and helpless. Most often individuals cannot reveal they are being victimized because their predator has sensitive information which they do not want to be made public. Cyberbullying can cause profound psychosocial outcomes including depression, anxiety, severe isolation, and, tragically, suicide.

In 2007, a sample of 1,963 middle-schoolers from one of the largest school districts in the United States completed a survey of Internet use and experiences. Youth who experienced traditional bullying or cyberbullying, as either an offender or a victim, had more suicidal thoughts and were more likely to attempt suicide than those who had not experienced such forms of peer aggression.

Social Media Is Not All Bad Though

But not all, social media is bad. Social media provides an effective and impactful way to connect with others and voice our opinions to the world.  Social media can help promote businesses and share exciting content with the masses. It’s a make or break situation for most startups and their success is highly dependent on social media. Many small business can’t afford extensive media campaigns so they use social media to promote themselves or their product.

Social Media Provides Support

Amanda Greene, a lupus activist was diagnosed with with systemic lupus erythematosus 32 15 years ago when social media did not exist. She relied on a support group to share her pain. Amanda looked for different treatment options and ultimately decided to change her specialist. Her new specialist had a broad knowledge and positive outlook on her disease. When he retired, she looked for a new rheumatologist online, who was open to alternative treatment techniques.

Not only was she able to find new doctors she met Tiffany Peterson, a fellow lupus survivor. This resulted in a lifelong friendship between the two where they attended seminars and sought out other lupus patients, to build a harmonious connection and discuss their life stories amongst themselves.

Many health professionals have yet to embrace the power of social media. Most doctors and health professionals are too busy to participate on social media and think of it as a distraction and threat to their profession.

If only they realized the impact social media has in giving a voice to people who are going through tough times. Supporting patients online with information online via a health blog or patient portal can be quite beneficial both for doctors and patients.

Social Media Can Change The Way We Treat Diseases

Social media is being used in a variety of ways in the health sector, from reinventing old techniques, coming up with creative solutions to unique problems and creating completely new models for delivering healthcare.

However, the ways in which health professionals use social media in daily practice remain underexplored.  One study of the Twitter accounts of US physicians reports that although clinicians shared medical information with the public in a potentially beneficial way, there were also breaches of privacy and ethics.

Nonetheless, recent experiences have shown that the application of social media in supporting health services has shown a lot of potential in recent years.

Measuring The Quality And Safety Of Healthcare

Patients and families are source of measuring the quality of healthcare. Many healthcare facilities have online profiles where patients can rate their quality of healthcare service. So new patients can do bit of research on a particular healthcare facility beforehand to make sure their service is up to scratch.

Emergency Services

Social media plays a vital role in dispatching emergency information, such as a viral outbreak or natural disaster such as earthquakes, and to track situation of unfolding events using audio, video and GPS data.

Moreover, tweets can be sent out to give regular updates about the events. Facebook’s “make me safe feature” can update friends and loved ones about individuals’ safety.

During the 2010 Haiti earthquake social media facilitated communication between emergency services which responded timely. Social media can also be used to gather donations for patients or those affected in the times of emergency.

Disease Management

Social media can provide space for patients where they can interact with healthcare officials and share their experiences with other patients. cancer patients use Twitter to interact with other patients and discuss possible treatments and more importantly provide moral support.

Healthcare management systems provide extensive support since they manage patients’ health records and make them available to doctors who can access them securely and easily.

They have been applied in diverse settings such as in vitro fertilisation and mental health and wellbeing support. Early evidence suggests that they can shift consumer behaviour. For example, in a randomised trial where consumers were provided with vaccination information, social feedback, and tools for online booking, influenza vaccination rates were significantly higher than in the control group (11.6% v 4.9%), as was the rate of health service visits (29.5% v. 17.9%)

Social Media and Health Research

Social media often allows researchers to identify possible clinical trial participants and bring them as collaborators. Patients are deeply involved in the latest trials and social media provides them with the opportunity to share their medical records with the community to help scientists come up with medical breakthroughs.

Sites such as curetogether.com and patientslikeme.com are designed to support the collection, aggregation, and analysis of patient outcome data to inform both treatment decisions and more basic research.

Large social networks such as Facebook and Twitter also play a vital role in gathering patient data, which can be used to monitor disease breakthroughs and epidemiology.

Providing A Better Social Media Experience

Social media network executives should put in place greater measures of security and privacy constraints. It is the responsibility to keep a close eye on their kids’ social activity and make sure they do not share private or personal information with any stranger. Parents are in charge of maintaining a daily schedule of their kids’ activities.

Hence social media time should be kept as minimum as possible. Instead they should make time for healthier activities such as socializing, exercise, studies, learning a new musical instrument and sports.

Mostly kids turn to social media because they are bored, if there time is consumed on such alternate hobbies, they will feel more satisfied and will boost their confidence. Parent should constantly motivate their kids and communicate with them so they do not feel left out, and turn to social media to discuss their problems.

For adults, social media can be a good distraction from the office stresses and life’s troubles but in order for them to make better use of their time, it is suggested that they use social media to communicate with distant friends or family members and do not discuss matters of religion or politics. .

They should limit themselves to social media for informative topics. So much information is available on the internet that they can consume for generations to come. They should use it to learn new skills to better improve themselves and use social media’ s vast array of information productively.

Hence, we have to make the best possible use of this medium without overburdening ourselves.