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Research Note: Social Media Use & Mental Health & Well-Being

Marie Holowaychuk, DVM, DACVECC, Critical Care Vet Consulting, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

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The impact of social media use on mental health and well-being is controversial. Suggested benefits include the ability to maintain long-distance connections, foster networks with others who share similar interests and circumstances, and facilitate face-to-face meetings. Proposed downsides include users experiencing comparisons, envy, isolation, and disconnection.1

Responses to a recent survey suggest that social media use among veterinarians can be detrimental. Survey responses collected from more than 3500 randomly selected veterinarians show that spending more than an hour per day on social media sites is negatively associated with mental health and well-being.2 However, there are ways social media users can avoid the potential negative consequences of screen time.

Research investigating the association between social media use and anxiety or depression has garnered conflicting results, suggesting that the type of activity and engagement on social media can affect mental health outcomes. A recent study of social media use among more than 700 adults that compared active use (eg, messaging a friend, commenting in a group) with passive use (eg, scrolling and liking posts) showed that active social media use was associated with a 15% decrease in depressive symptoms as compared with a 33% increase in depressive symptoms among passive social media users.3

Some have chosen to give up social media use altogether to reduce possible negative effects. A study that compared participants who took a break from Facebook with those who continued using Facebook showed that taking a break improved life satisfaction and positive emotions.4 The effects of taking a break from Facebook were greater among those who were previously heavy Facebook users and those who previously used Facebook passively.

The following practices can foster active social media engagement:

  • Sharing posts that are meaningful (eg, personal stories) to encourage comments and engagement from others
  • Sending messages to friends and loved ones to maintain distant connections
  • Searching for local events to attend in person and make new connections
  • Finding and joining closed groups where engagement can occur in a meaningful way (eg, a Facebook group for veterinary professionals who are also mothers)
  • Limiting use to no more than an hour per day using time-management apps

Whenever possible, social media should be used actively or its use should be limited.


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