Revisiting: Social Media & Mental Health with Christopher Ferguson
We're finishing up our two week long retrospective with one more "look back" episode. Today we're revisiting our episode on Social Media featuring an interview with Christopher Ferguson sharing his expertise as a psychology professor with Dr. Fedrick. Several months later and this episode is just as topical as ever. So enjoy this last revisit episode and tune in Monday for a brand new episode of Calm, Cool, & Connected.
There are currently over 4.5 billion people in the world using at least one social network.
Influencers, celebrities and regular people all take to Facebook, Instagram, and other social networks to share their lives. But what effect does social media use have on mental health?
For this episode of Calm, Cool & Connected, we are joined by Christopher J. Ferguson, a professor of psychology at Stetson University. He helps us examine the effects of social media on our mental state!
Key Takeaways from Liz’s talk with Chris:
• Hear how social media has positive effects on mental health
• Learn why pre-existing mental health conditions are exacerbated by social media
• Find out some ways parents can mitigate risks when it comes to kids and social media use
• Learn: what exactly is “doom scrolling”?
• Hear why the block and mute buttons are tools for mental health
All of this and more on today's episode!
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DISCLAIMER: THE CONSULTATIONS OR INTERACTIONS OFFERED ARE NOT MENTAL HEALTH THERAPY. THE CONSULTATION IS FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND NOT STRUCTURED IN A WAY TO PROVIDE MENTAL HEALTH COUNSELING/PSYCHOTHERAPY/THERAPY/ DIAGNOSING OF ANY KIND. YOU UNDERSTAND THAT CALM COOL AND CONNECTED IS NOT PROVIDING INFORMATION AS YOUR TREATING MENTAL HEALTH COUNSELOR, PHYSICIAN, ATTORNEY, LEGAL COUNSEL, EMPLOYER, MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL. We offer no guarantees or promise of results from event nor assume liability for any information provided.
Dr. Fedrick: hello and welcome to calm, cooling, connected. I'm your host, Dr. Elizabeth Bedrick Kim Kardashians, Donald Trump, Justin Bieber. What are these individuals all have in common? If your first thought was narcissism, you're not wrong. However, where I'm actually headed with this is that these individuals all have over a hundred million followers on social media and have had a profound impact on our culture.
And society has. A pretty common question that comes up is what [00:01:00] really is the impact of these social media influencers and social media in general, on our mental health. So here with us today is Christopher Ferguson. He's professor of psychology at Stetson university. And he's going to help us to understand this really, this impact between social media and mental health.
Christopher J. Ferguson: Welcome. Thanks for having me on today. Thank you so
Dr. Fedrick: much for joining us. So before we jump in, can you tell us a little bit about your background, how you became interested in this impact between social media and mental health? Yeah,
Christopher J. Ferguson: sure. So I'm a clinical psychologist by training and a psychology professors, tests and university.
And I actually, it's kind of a long path I had originally been doing. Um, violent crime of all things and doing clinical work and research with inmates at a local jail and kind of a roundabout way. That was really where I started. But because of my interest in violence, I started getting interested in the debate on video games and video game violence and other media violence and how that might affect aggression or [00:02:00] violent crime.
And, and, and really got interested in this idea of like how society approaches technology and how society approaches media and the kind of narratives that, and the worries that people have around these things and how that can result in the term. We oftentimes use as a moral panic around a lot of these things.
And so from that sort of being involved in doing research and video games for almost two decades, at this point, I started to branch out into a few other areas of research, including the more recently social media, which seems to be one of the things people are really concerned about now. Social media screen time, smart phones, all that kind of, yeah.
Dr. Fedrick: That's, that's so interesting. That's such great insight. Some from some research I've done in the past, I listened to a podcast once that was talking about how it's always something with society, right. So it was, you know, what's bad in the world. So it was comic books for awhile and then it went to television and then video games.
And now we are here with social media and you're exactly right. That is the focus, help us to understand what are the real versus [00:03:00] not real issues when it comes to the impact of social media on mental health.
Christopher J. Ferguson: Yeah, that's a great question. So, I mean, there's some good news in it, you know, especially for the last year with the, uh, the pandemic and a lot of kids were home.
A lot of adults were home as well. And we all kind of had to rely on social media to a great degree that obviously there were a lot of benefits, social media help people keep in touch with each other. They help people do their jobs. You know, it really was in many ways, a godsend for a lot of folks going through the particularly the early lockdown stages of the, of the pandemic.
So there are definitely a lot of positives that, that, that come along with it. The other piece of good news is, is that, although there's a lot of controversy on this issue, you know, my read of the evidence at this point is that there doesn't seem to be a lot of good evidence to suggest. Social media exposure is causing serious mental health problems, suicide, depression, or things like that in most users of that are using that.
So there, there certainly are some individuals who overdo technology and they tend to have a history of pre-existing mental health problems. That kind of relate to that. But in terms of like your average kid who just was [00:04:00] home this year and couldn't go to school, are they going to really suffer from depression, anxiety, suicide.
Probably not in most situations. So that's kind of like the good side. I'm the other, you know, there are obviously other privacy concerns that people have that are pretty legitimate. There are, you're probably seeing. Yeah, free speech concerns related to social media and what they allow us to say and what they don't allow us to say.
Some of that I think is pretty legitimate, you know, in terms of things like mental health. The other thing I think we're seeing with, with social media is, is both a good and a bad thing. It's, it's allowing people who used to not really have a voice to have a voice. The downside of that is that not all of those people are terribly rational.
And so what is happening is that we are seeing, and unfortunately, because of the way that some of the algorithms and social media work, that things like outrage tend to get a lot of attention. It's profitable for those. So the people who are the most outrage who oftentimes have mental health problems now getting kind of an outsized influence, you know, companies are [00:05:00] paying attention to Twitter mobs and, you know, Twitter outrage and things like that.
And so I think that starting to have a real negative impact, you know, it's not the only thing that's having a negative impact on our society, but that is one thing I think is really causing a lot of problems for people because it's really seems to be hard for us to filter out what's going on. In Twitterverse or Instagram is not what the average person in the United States is, is thinking.
But you know, politicians, companies and universities sometimes think that it is and respond badly to some of this outrage by put it bluntly, taking it more seriously than perhaps they should.
Dr. Fedrick: Right. And when you say that, You know, for the average person, these mental health concerns aren't really arising.
What are some of these factors that you have found potentially that will influence. When it becomes an issue versus when it's
Christopher J. Ferguson: not an issue. Yeah. I mean, usually what happens is for someone who develops, you know, what we might call like a pathological use of technology. So overuse of technology [00:06:00] is a, they usually have a preexisting mental health concern that predates their problems with technology.
So what type of things that happen as a, uh, you know, w w people wasn't concerned about teens, of course, it can happen to adults, but if we're thinking about teams, a teen already has anxiety, they have depression, they may have an autism spectrum. They may have add ADHD. And a lot of these cases they'll start to turn to technology because technology is.
And whatever they're experiencing in real life. Isn't, you know, it's not really rocket science, you know? So in that sense, that's not really the technology did it to them. You know, it's not like the video games, you know, took a perfectly healthy child and caused them to have problems. It's just the thing that the person with depression or anxiety is doing to kind of self-medicate now that might not be.
You know, way of dealing with those problems, but it's what they're doing before. So, you know, sometimes technology overused can be a red flag if you will, but simply taking away the technology or getting them to stop playing video games or using social media, isn't really going to solve the problem that the depression, anxiety or add is [00:07:00] still going to be there, uh, in the situations.
And the things parents should really look for is, you know, is your kid doing okay in school? The grades aren't any worse than they were before at very least, you know, are they getting some exercise every day, half hours went out. Are they getting adequate sleep and are they basically happy? You know, if those four things or basically lining up, then you don't have a PR or your kid doesn't really have a problem.
You not liking them. Being on the machine all day is not diagnosable. Problem is with you.
Dr. Fedrick: Great point. I have that conversation and session so frequently. You know, a parent's opinion of if they think it's dumb or if they don't understand it, that does not that, yeah, that is not the deciding factor for the child.
For sure. I agree. What are some ways that people can mitigate these risks? So I'm hearing you say, you know, too much of anything, even a good thing can ultimately be a bad thing. So what are some ways that people can mitigate this?
Christopher J. Ferguson: Yeah. I mean, it helps to [00:08:00] kind of go in early with limit. So, you know, when the child is young to kind of have some sort of established routine around media use, it's harder to implement it once they're a teenager and almost impossible once we're over 18, because they're an adult at that point.
So you ideally do want to start early, but generally the thing you want to do is to kind of use the technical language. You want to reward low base rate behaviors with high base rate behaviors. And what I mean is you want to take the things that you want your kid. But they don't want to do themselves.
So chores, homework, that kind of stuff, and have them do that first, you know, that what they do first and then once they complete the tasks that they're required to do, but may not be motivated to do, then they are allowed, you know, whatever is an appropriate amount of screen time. You know, that the parents consider is okay.
There's no magic number by the way, in terms of screen time. Um, it explodes or something like that, that you bring
Dr. Fedrick: up that point. That is one of the most common questions that parents will ask me in session. Right. That, well, how much am I allowed to let them on each day? And [00:09:00] I say exactly what you just said.
There is no magic number. So, yeah, that's a great point. How about with adult social, social media use and mental health. So. What is the impact. We talked quite a bit about the impact on kids. What is the impact on
Christopher J. Ferguson: adults? It's been the same, you know, basically in and of itself using social media is not necessarily a terrible thing.
What we, what we do tend to find is, and against us for teens and adults, is that how you use it in some ways is a better. Of mental health then is simply spending time on it. You know, so some individuals, particularly in my generation, I'm about to hit 50 at this point, you know, we are on Facebook and what we do is we just compare ourselves to our old.
And our colleagues and that sort of stuff. And basically we brag is what we do, but that's actually good. That's actually associated with, so I think it's called like positive self representation and stuff. So basically going on social media and coming away from it, thinking like, compared like to the average, like high school person, I went to her.
You know, I look pretty good and I'm like, my life is pretty good and, you know, [00:10:00] and things turn out. Okay. And you can brag that actually is associated with positive outcomes. But on the other hand, you have other people that compare themselves negatively to others on social media, you have people that experienced what's called dooms growling.
I don't know if you've heard that term, which is basically just looking for bad news, bad information and such, so that can have some negative. Negative repercussions to you getting into stupid fights with people all the time stress. So mainly I would try to avoid that. You know, it's like the old joke, you know, I can't leave because someone's wrong on the internet, you know, that's low stakes stuff.
Yeah. I try to avoid like the, the trips or the landmines that you can find. And I'm not very good at myself. You know, I'm learning this as much as anybody does, but if you can avoid that, you have. More block people, mute people don't feel ashamed about it. It should be fun if you're not having fun, then you're doing
Dr. Fedrick: right and circle of control, focus on what you can influence what's within your circle.
And the thoughts and opinions of others are most certainly [00:11:00] not within our circle. Our time. Um, before we wrap up, I want to talk a little bit about your book. It sounds really interesting. It is a mouthful. So bear with me as I, as I say, the title here. So how madness shaped history, an eccentric array of maniacal.
Raving narcissist and psychotic visionaries.
Christopher J. Ferguson: That's pretty much what it says on the box. Yeah. I mean just the first part is all you need, how Madden shaped history it's got. So basically it's a look at, that's why I love history, you know, in a different career path. I probably could have been a historian, but, you know, so this was just an opportunity to sort of like talk about history, but also talk about psychology.
And it's really a book that looks at how. Specific individuals had a big impact on history and it's kind of different. You hear a lot about like, you know, how the environment and how diseases and, and resources had an impact on history and stuff. So kind of like downplaying the role of individuals. And I really wanted to come back and say, well, sometimes individuals do matter.
And being kind of a morbid person, I really wanted to focus on [00:12:00] individuals who screw things up in a big way. So these are individuals that, you know, Yeah. You know, we don't really definitively know what was happening with them, but we can make some reasonable guesses about things like brain damage or mental illness, you know, other kinds of dementia in some cases, and have these mental health conditions led these people who were very powerful into making disastrous decisions that the ruin their societies or resulted in multiple deaths, you know, genocide, all kinds of other stuff.
So it's a very, a, I don't know if the word. Uh, amusingly morbid book, I guess, in a way it was kind of the tone I was going forward. Anyway,
Dr. Fedrick: I'll give that a look for sure. That sounds really interesting. Thank you so much for joining us today. Can you tell our viewers, where can they find more information
Christopher J. Ferguson: about you?
Absolutely. Yeah, so it was a pleasure being on, but yeah, if the viewers are interested, they can find me on Twitter. I'm not very imaginative. So my Twitter handle is just CJ for. 1, 1, 1, 1. And I also have a website which also is not imaginative as it's just my name, which is Christopher J. Ferguson dot com.
So you could find me a there, most [00:13:00] of my research is published there. I also write some fiction, so you can find them some of my fiction for free there. And yeah, hopefully a few people will obtain. Sounds
Dr. Fedrick: great. Thank you so much, Christopher. I appreciate it.
Christopher J. Ferguson: Awesome. Thank you for having me on today
Dr. Fedrick: and thank you all for tuning into this episode of calm, cooling, connected.
Please make sure you find us on Facebook and Instagram and also make sure you rate and subscribe to our podcast so that others can find our content as well. Thank you again for joining us. Have a great day. .