Increased social media use harms mental health, study says

Chinese Social Media Influencer: Xingbo Su poses for a portrait in Beijing, China on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. Xingbo Su has 120,000 followers on Douyin. (Photo by Sugege Du/The Press)

Spending more time on using social media is associated with negative effects on mental health because of the exposure to bad news, according to a new study.

The study results show that when people read more disaster news through social media, they have a higher chance of facing depression and disaster stress.

The study asked 512 Chinese college students to complete an online survey with questions related to social media usage, COVID-19, mental health and secondary traumatic stress.

Xingbo Su is a TikTok influencer in China, where the site is known as Douyin. He shared his experience of using social media during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was great! I gained many followers. When the quarantine just started, I posted videos on Douyin almost daily,” Su said, speaking in Mandarin.

“Since I did not have to go to school, I had more time to make high-quality and interesting content for my Douyin.”

Su explained his opinion on accessing disaster news.

“I think people who have strong empathy might have negative reactions to bad news. The quarantine gives people more chances to see what is happening around the whole world through their phone.”

“The social media platform I use most are Douyin and Weibo. I do see much bad news on Weibo. You know many people died to COVID-19, but it did not really affect my emotions and mental health.”

The study suggests that during the COVID-19 pandemic, disaster stress should be considered as one of the negative mental health effects such as loneliness, depression and anxiety.

“I checked social media very often during the quarantine and it was scary to see the increasing number of cases,”  said Chengwei Ling, a Media Studies student at the Communication University of China, speaking in Mandarin.

“Definitely, the more you check on social media, the more negative news you tend to see.”

It was great! I gained many followers. When the quarantine just started, I posted videos on Douyin almost daily. – Xingbo Su

Ling suggested people who are easily affected by bad news should use interest-based social media instead of news social media platforms to avoid exposure to disaster news.

“I think disaster stressor is a serious mental health issue just [the] same as anxiety,” Ling said.

“The disaster news also affected my mental health somehow, but I tried to focus on good news more to make myself feel better. Luckily, the quarantine finished in three months.”