Social media and mental health: CVS-Morning Consult survey shows pros, cons

A larger proportion of Americans are worried about their mental health now than at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new survey from CVS Health. In March, the nation’s biggest pharmacy chain partnered with Morning Consult to poll 2,202 U.S. adults.

In survey results released Thursday, about 65% of respondents said they’ve experienced concerns about their own mental health or that of friends and family, compared to 59% in April 2022 and 50% in April 2020.

“I think the take-home point is that we continue to see behavioral health be an increasing focus of the public,” Dr. Taft Parsons III, CVS Health vice president and chief psychiatric officer, tells Fortune. “[COVID-19] has brought about not an elimination but a decrease in the amount of stigma that people used to have with talking about their emotional struggles and behavioral health needs.”

Socialization is a means of coping with stress, Parsons says, and when people faced sudden, prolonged isolation, some took to virtual mental health treatment: “Before the pandemic, I think a lot of people would just suffer in silence and not get the help that they need.”

Nearly half of respondents, 48%, said they’re likely to use mental well-being apps for treatment, while 55% said the same of therapy.

A majority of respondents, 77%, said they’re concerned about mental well-being on a national scale. By comparison, 81% said the economy was also a significant concern.

“We’re talking about really top-of-mind issues,” Parsons says. “This is dinner conversation; people are very concerned about it.”

Respondents cited these issues as drivers of anxiety:

  • Uncertainty about the future: 51%
  • Current events: 49%
  • Body image/physical appearance: 35%

The poll results align with a growing body of evidence documenting increased rates of depression and anxiety, particularly among younger people, says Dr. Itai Danovitch, chair of the Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences Department at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, who wasn’t involved in the survey.

“Those concerned about their mental health should recognize that we can strengthen our resilience by prioritizing self-care practices such as safeguarding sleep, making time for exercise, reducing excessive digital media consumption, and prioritizing quality time with friends and family,” Danovitch tells Fortune via email. “For individuals experiencing severe or persistent mood symptoms, it is crucial to consult a health care professional, as there are various effective treatment options that can be tailored to personal values and preferences.”

While the survey methodology indicates “data were weighted to approximate a target sample of adults based on age, gender, educational attainment, race, and region,” the published results weren’t stratified by these demographics. CVS Health provided Fortune with additional data showing 81% of respondents ages 18–34 said they were concerned about their mental health or that of their loved ones, compared to 74% in 2022 and 62% in 2020. However, it is unclear how this compares to other age groups.

Nervous young woman using smartphone.
A larger proportion of Americans are worried about their mental health now than at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new survey from CVS Health and Morning Consult.

Jamie Grill—Getty Images

Social media has pros, cons for mental health

Social media use dovetails with mental health in myriad positive and negative ways, the survey results suggest. About 36% of respondents said social media has taught them about mental health issues. Meanwhile, 37% said they believe social media has hurt society at large. A third said they’re trying to spend less time on social media and turned off app notifications.

“A lot of public figures have started to talk about needing and being in treatment through social media and telling their personal stories,” Parsons says. “From that standpoint, it’s a very good thing…there is a goodness to folks being able to spread the word and spread it quickly.”

Parsons adds, “We have seen some of the negative effects of that too, from the standpoint of people attributing stress and anxiety to things that are coming through Instagram and other social media—as well as the way that it’s affected our general ability to get along and cooperate with circles of folks that are different from us.”

Roughly half of parents surveyed said they feel social media is impacting their children’s development and perceptions of the world. In addition, more parents are concerned with their children’s mental health, 70%, than physical health, 66%.

“Mounting evidence suggests that, especially during childhood, the adverse effects of social media are significant and widespread,” Danovitch says. “We have a considerable way to go in effectively addressing these challenges.”

If you need immediate mental health support, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

CVS Health is a sponsor of Fortune WELL.

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