The 2016 SA Social Media Landscape study found that in South Africa there are:

13 million Facebook users

7.4 million Twitter users

8.28 million YouTube users

2.68 million Instagram users

Social media plays a major part in our everyday lives, and most young people spend a large part of their day engaging on one or more social media platforms. Social media can have many positive aspects, such as helping you connect with loved ones who may be scattered around the world, connecting with people who have similar interests or passions, and providing you with a platform on which to share stories and experiences.

However, research is showing more and more that social media can also have a very negative affect on young people’s mental health. The #StatusOfMind survey, published by the United Kingdom’s Royal Society for Public Health, found that Instagram is the worst social media network for mental health and well-being. The social media site was associated with high levels of anxiety, depression, bullying and FOMO, or the “fear of missing out.” Another study in the United Kingdom of Facebook and Twitter users found that 62% of social media users reported feeling inadequate and 60% reported feelings of jealousy from comparing themselves to other users. The study also found that these negative feelings can lead to depression.

As we continue to use more and more social media, cyberbullying and harassment also increase. Just like physical bullying, cyber or online bullying can have devastating affects on a person’s mental and emotional health, and can lead to depression, anxiety, self-harm, substance use and even suicide attempts.

Things you can do to protect your mental health

Don’t use your phone late at night. Your phone could be having a huge impact on the quality of your sleep, which is essential to keeping you happy and functioning. The blue light emitted from phone, laptop and tablet screens disrupts melatonin production in your brain, and melatonin is the chemical that helps us fall asleep. A lack of sleep can have a very negative impact on your mental health.

Take regular screen breaks. Do something that doesn’t involve staring at a screen! Read a book, listen to music, exercise, and spend time with family or friends.

Remember that social media is not reality. Comparing yourself and your life to what you see on social media is a guaranteed way to make yourself unhappy and negative. Remember that everyone chooses to only post the photos, information and stories about themselves on social media that make them and their lives look good. So don’t fall into the trap of comparing your reality to edited posts.

Don’t read too much into what people say online. Misunderstandings can happen very easily online. Who hasn’t read a message and spent a couple of minutes trying to decide if a message is sarcastic or not? The meaning of messages on social media can be more difficult to understand because the social cues we rely on face-to-face are missing, such as body language and tone of voice. So if you aren’t sure what someone meant, try asking them before making assumptions or getting upset.

Avoid content that might be triggering to you. Sometimes posts with pictures or specific sentiments can trigger feelings of anxiety and depression. If this happens to you, try to become aware of what type of content it is that you find upsetting or triggering. This will make it easier for you to avoid sites or pages that may post such content. If you do see something that upsets you, close the window or scroll past quickly, or take a short break from the social media site until you are feeling better.

Delete exes immediately after a breakup. It’s not just staple break-up advice. A 2012 study found that constant exposure to a former romantic partner through social media had a negative effect on recovery from a break up.