Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 19 May 2019

Shedding light on the darker side of social media and its impact on mental health

Katherine Ormerod will speak at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature about how to balance your mental health with consuming social media

The author says comparing yourself to the ‘girl next door’ on social media can have a serious effect on a woman’s mental health Getty 
The author says comparing yourself to the ‘girl next door’ on social media can have a serious effect on a woman’s mental health Getty 

From the dangers of mental health and brain function, to ­sacrificing social interaction and being unproductive in the workplace, there are many reasons why Katherine Ormerod went bold with the title of her new book, Why Social Media Is Ruining Your Life.

Ormerod, a British fashion journalist and social media expert, has spent time peeling away the layers of the social media world and how it is potent­ially damaging women’s mental health. The former Sunday Times Style writer says we no longer have a separation between “normal people” and “celebrities. Rather than a comparison with a catwalk model or a Hollywood star, we are comparing ourselves to the girl next door, which Ormerod says, “feels far more relevant and the standards portrayed far more attainable than in traditional media”, but which in turn has a deeper, more damaging effect on your mental health.

After speaking to international influencers, psychologists, therapists, academics and plastic surgeons, Ormerod, who will present her book at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, wanted to unravel the effects of social media on the lives of women; on identity, motherhood, body perceptions, politics, health, relationships and careers.

The harmful effects of social media

Simply put, people spend too much time on social media, to the detriment of face-to-face interactions and downtime from mental stimulation.

“There’s little doubt that our hyper connectivity and screen segueing is having a major impact on our ability to be productive and is actually seemingly rewiring our brains,” she says. “With four out of five employees accessing their private social media accounts during work time and spending on average two hours a day on these platforms, productivity is depleting by an estimated 13 per cent.”

Although as many as 34 per cent of people say social media offers a “mental break” from work, this is having major mental health implications and serious impacts on brain function and hormonal health.

“The problem is that our brains are far less capable of multitasking, meaning overall, our production is being seriously depleted,” she says.

The studies

In 2017, the Bank of England reported that it takes office workers an average of 25 minutes to get back on task after an interruption, while workers who are habitually interrupted by email or social media are likelier to “self-interrupt” with procrastination breaks, as their brain function is simply unable to manage longer spans of concentration.

The problem is that our brains are far less capable of multitasking, meaning overall, our production is being seriously depleted.

Katherine Ormerod

Several studies, including one by Stanford University, found social media may have actually rerouted the brain’s ability to multitask. The research showed that those who often used social media were more susceptible to interference from irrelevant environmental stimuli.

Ormerod says that, as consumers, we must be more conscious about the nature of the social media content we choose to view, in the same way we have learnt to question mainstream advertising and media. We also need to pay closer attention to the time we spend on it, and perhaps monitor that with the wealth of apps and in-phone tools now available.

A recent study by Global Web Index found that on average, people aged 16 to 24 spend three hours a day on social media platforms, while those aged 25 to 34 spend two hours and 37 minutes and 35 to 44-year-olds spend two hours and four minutes.

It's not all bad

Regardless, Ormerod says people of all ages are equally susceptible to the pitfalls of social media’s influence on mental health, as everyone goes through challenges of one sort or another during their lives, from financial to emotional problems. “Young people who have little life experience are the first concern, but I’ve been vulnerable at different times – like when my husband left me and I was going through a divorce, or when I was a new mum,” she says.

However, it’s important to note that social media isn’t all negative. Although we may have fewer real life connections, for many it has created different types of communities. Ormerod has seen this among health-related support groups, which she says can be “life-changing, once again proving that it’s not the technology itself that is inherently nefarious, but the ways in which we, as the humans at the controls, use it.

And her takeaways from the research are simple: buy an alarm clock, don’t take your phone into the bedroom, curate a fulfilling and inspiring feed on the platforms you utilise, and spend less time on social media and more time connecting with real people around you.

“The less time you spend on social media, the better you feel – that is a now pretty much incontestable conclusion from the vast research,” Ormerod says. “I see it very much as you are what you eat – a hamburger is fine from time to time, but if you’re eating McDonalds every night, you’re not going to feel great.”

Ormerod speaks at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature Thursday, Friday and Saturday

Updated: March 5, 2019 06:58 PM