Is Social Media Making Your Patients Unhappy?


Have you chatted recently with your patients about their social media use? This study shows how and why it is important.


A recent study1 determined everyday usage of social media adversely affects a person’s well-being. Researchers examined if social media impacts 3 components of subjective well-being—positive affect, negative affect, and life satisfaction—and found how a person uses social media that impacts their overall happiness.

“Social network sites are an integral part of everyday life for many people around the world,” lead author Derrick Wirtz, PhD, an associate professor of teaching in psychology at the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, said to the press. “Every day, billions of people interact with social media. Yet the widespread use of social network sites stands in sharp contrast to a comparatively small body of research on how this use impacts a person’s happiness.”2

The study focused on the usage of 3 popular social media sites: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Participants were monitored over a 10-day period, and it was found that those who used social media everyday had an increased negative affect, and therefore lower well-being. As to why social media had such a strong negative affect, researchers suspect social comparison, where users compare themselves to other users.

While people have turned to social media during the coronavirus-19 (COVID-19) pandemic to reduce feelings of isolation, Wirtz states that social media usage increased participants’ feelings of loneliness.

“Today, the necessity of seeing and hearing friends and family only through social media due to COVID-19 might serve as a reminder of missed opportunities to spend time together,” Wirtz explained.2

Offline social interaction had the opposite effect: users’ positive affect increased, and negative affect decreased. Wirtz therefore recommends phone calls or safe, face-to-face interaction over social media.

So what should you tell patients about using social media responsibly, particularly in this COVID-19 era?

Wirtz and colleagues offered the following tips to share with patients:

- Avoid passively scrolling.

- Resist comparing yourself to others on your feed.

- Use the sites to directly interact with friends and family (ie, to find a time to talk in-person, obviously with proper precautions and gear).

- Reduce your day-to-day use, if possible. 

Wirtz offered this final advice: “We need to remember how we use social media has the potential to shape the effects on our day-to-day happiness.”2


1. Wirtz D, Tucker A, Briggs C, Schoemann AM. How and Why Social Media Affect Subjective Well-Being: Multi-Site Use and Social Comparison as Predictors of Change Across Time. Journal of Happiness Studies. August 5, 2020.

2. University of British Columbia. It’s not if, but how people use social media that impacts their well-being. News release. November 2, 2020.

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