Will removing ‘likes’ improve our mental health?
Published: 13 August, 2019
Instagram recently made some big changes in the social media space in a trial that conceals the platform’s key currency - likes. It has been reported that the tech-giant did this in order to improve user wellbeing but what does a social media and mental health expert think?
By nature, humans are incredibly social beings. The ability to contact and connect with others plays a big part in our wellbeing, which in turn is critical to the prevention and management of mental illness.
The Internet and social media have presented a whole new range of ways to stay connected with others. Social media has become an extremely popular way for people to communicate, share thoughts, feelings and behaviours, and stay connected with others.
Dr Bridianne O’Dea, a Senior Research Fellow at Black Dog Institute, specialises in the roles and use of technologies like social media for our mental health with a focus on young people. She’s always been curious about social media’s potential for identifying and supporting people in need of mental healthcare.
“Here at the Black Dog Institute, we’ve discovered that the way we communicate on social media, like the types of words we use and the way we structure our social media posts, can provide insight into how we are feeling,” says Dr O’Dea.
Regarding the recent changes on Instagram, Dr O’Dea notes that several studies have attempted to investigate the links between different types of feedback – the gratification that comes from getting likes on photo, for instance - and our mental health, but they have produced varied results.
“Most studies are based on surveys and self-reported data, so the genuine relationship between likes and the impact on mental health remains quite unclear.”
One study proposed that self-critical individuals may interpret fewer likes as a threat to their self-worth. Another study found that the numbers of likes had no impact on users’ self-esteem.
Increasingly, research indicates that certain individuals and personality types may be more vulnerable to the effects of social media.
“The feedback received on Instagram may be perceived as more rewarding or threatening if the individuals who are posting are preoccupied with using this to satisfy their interpersonal needs,” said Dr O’Dea.
Looking at social media more broadly, a recent landmark study showed, for the first time, a link between social media use and the development of depression in adolescence.
“This is the first study to use such a large amount of data (four years worth) from a very large sample of 3,000 young people,” said Dr O’Dea.
“What it found is that high levels of social media use throughout adolescence was associated with increased depression and increased social media use was also associated with lower self-esteem over time”.
Although the study did not look at ‘likes’ specifically, the researchers proposed that repeated exposure to idealized images lowered adolescents’ self-esteem, triggered depression, and worsened it over time. Adolescents already living with depression who used social media heavily appeared to be more negatively affected by their time spent on social media as well.
What this says is that young people, parents, and carers need to be conscious of the time spent on social media and its impact on mental health.
“While this area of research is still new and emerging, researchers and clinicians encourage all individuals to be conscious of their social media use and the types of content we expose ourselves to online,’ adds Dr O’Dea.
If you or someone you know is in crisis please call one of the following national helplines:
LIFELINE COUNSELLING SERVICE - 13 11 14
SUICIDE CALL BACK SERVICE 1300 659 467 (cost of a local call)