Media Mentality: Social Media, Movies and Their Effects on Mental Health


Image by Sofia Hernandez

“[Cyberbullying] has been around since we’ve had the internet. But it’s increased because people are able to keep this anonymity to them, right, like I can just pretend I’m so and so and then I’m just going to go on and say these hateful comments,” says Claire Contreras, MECA counselor.

DISCLAIMER: This article features spoilers for the AppleTV movie Spirited.

When you walk into a classroom, and the teacher announces a break time, everybody’s first instinct is to pull out their phone. From Instagram to TikTok, social media has become a daily usage in our lives. There are positives and negatives to social media. Unfortunately, often the negatives outway the positives, according to mental health studies. As of 2021, over 4.26 billion people were on social platforms, and according to the CDC, in the US alone more than 50% of people will be diagnosed with a mental illness.

Struggles with Social Media
People use social media for entertainment, validation, and connections with people. But using a large amount of social media has been linked to decreased mental health.

Mt. SAC Early College Academy (MECA) counselor, Claire Contreras, has noticed patterns when speaking with students about their mental health. “You can…have unhealthy comparisons to lifestyles, or people,” she says. “And it’s not a reality. It can create body image issues, fear of missing out, [and] you can deal with cyberbullying.”
Not only are those some side effects of the media, but there can also be a false sense of happiness when getting sought-out validation.

“If you’re getting a bunch of stuff like, likes…you’re obviously getting that flood of dopamine,” Contreras says, “But then it can immediately come down with feelings of guilt and regret because you saw something that didn’t put you in a good mood or really brought you down.”

“Unfortunately, the internet has made bullying worse in many ways because it provides anonymity and a false sense of security that you can write or say anything you want. It’s made me aware of how the decisions you make can really impact your life and those around you.”

— Lee Piazza

According to research, it can have the same effects as smoking a cigarette (Middle Georgia State University). The instant rush of dopamine only lasts for a bit, but when the screen is off, the depression and anxiety can kick in, leaving an empty feeling and fear of missing out on events also known as FOMO.

FOMO is such a common occurrence that it has become a term on its own. The National Library of Medicine defines it as “perception of missing out, followed up with a compulsive behavior to maintain these social connections.”

Another long-lasting effect of social media is when something is posted, it’s never deleted. Even if a post is deleted, it is still floating and roaming on the web. People can still dig far down to find an old post using sites like the Way Back Machine.

Recently, a new movie on AppleTV was released featuring Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell. The movie, Spirited, was a twist on the classic Charles Dickens story A Christmas Carol where Ryan Reynolds’ character, Clint, had to face the consequences contributing to a young boy’s death.

Clint finds a video of the boy on social media from years ago and reposts it. The Ghost of Christmas Future shows all the consequences of releasing the video, one of them being part of the reason the young boy, played by Maximilian Lee Piazza, commits suicide. Lee Piazza connected deeply with his character, Josh.

Maximilian Lee Piazza talks about his favorite scenes in the AppleTV original movie, Spirited. (Image by Lee Piazza on Instagram, published here with permission from Lee Piazza)

“My character Josh gets cyberbullied as a result of a poor decision made by Clint, Kimberly and Wren and it’s something that many kids experience in real life,” Lee Piazza says,“Unfortunately, the internet has made bullying worse in many ways because it provides anonymity and a false sense of security that you can write or say anything you want. It’s made me aware of how the decisions you make can really impact your life and those around you.”

Cyberbullying has become an increasingly serious issue. As of 2022, 46% of teens in the U.S. reported cyberbullying (Pew Research Center).

“I can definitely relate to Josh in terms of the bullying,” Lee Piazza shared, “but thankfully I’ve always been able to deal with it by focusing on positive things like my acting and other things I enjoy.”

Cyberbullying statistic between ages 13-17 in the United States. Information gathered by Pew Research Center. (Image by Sofia Hernandez)

The media can make people lose track of time and reality due to looking at life through a lens. It can be helpful, yet harmful to some. According to Contreras, moderation is key.

“Limiting your screen time [and] turning off notifications is huge…I think there’s just this sense of urgency and immediate response that is just really not necessary,” Contreras recommends. That sense of urgency to be present on the screen can take away the focus of living in the actual moment.

“I think it’s just important to monitor your time and become more aware of how you’re feeling when you’re connected to your device,” Contreras advises.