- Actor Tom Holland is the latest celebrity to announce a break from social media.
- Experts and research are mixed on how much social media affects mental health. But mental health providers and one recent study indicate that even a short break from it can be beneficial.
- Mental health providers hope that the increased prevalence of celebrities, like Holland, opening up about their mental health helps further break down the stigma.
Actor Tim Holland hasn’t been on social media much in recent weeks. But he re-emerged Sunday to say hello and goodbye (for now, at least).
The star of Spiderman: No Way Home announced he was taking a break from social media in a three-minute video on Instagram, where he has 67.8 million followers.
“I have taken a break from social media for my mental health because I find Instagram and Twitter to be overstimulating, to be overwhelming,” said Holland, 26. “I get caught up, and I spiral when I read things about me online, and ultimately, it’s very detrimental to my mental state. So, I decided to take a step back and delete the app.”
Holland also plugged UK-based mental health resource Stem4, which his organization The Brothers Trust supports.
“There is an awful stigma against mental health and I know that asking for help and seeking help isn’t something we should be ashamed of,” Holland said.
Holland didn’t indicate when he’d return, only that he’d, speak to his fans “soon.”
Support rolled in, including from notable names.
Professional skateboarder Shane O’Neill called him a “legend” in the comments.
“Man, you’re an inspiration to so many. But what matters is your physical and mental health, so take care and come back better than ever,” replied wrestler Ricochet.
And Justin Beiber said, “Love you, man.”
Holland is one of several celebs who have logged off of social media — temporarily or permanently — in recent years to protect or improve their mental health. Justin Bieber’s wife, model Hailey Bieber left Twitter and said she only checked Instagram on weekends, in 2021. Musician Shawn Mendes also took a social media break for his mental health in 2021 and canceled his 2022 tour.
“Things work better when we take intentional time to unplug, pause and reflect,” says Kiana Shelton, LCSW, with Mindpath Health: “Someone will always have an opinion about you and that can emotionally take a toll, even if you do have a strong sense of self.”
Shelton says celebs may be under a larger microscope and face more scrutiny online but feels anyone can benefit from a social media detox. She and other mental health providers discussed the pros and cons of social media breaks and how to log off.
Mental health issues may frequently get pinned on social media. But is it warranted? The data is mixed.
In a 2021 whistleblower report, Frances Haugen provided documentation that Facebook and Instagram knew that Instagram knew its content was exacerbating eating disorders and mental health issues for teenage girls. The report also said that Facebook’s algorithm elevated content that made people angry because it was more engaging, keeping people on the site and increasing the potential for profits.
But a 2019 study suggested that adults who used social media were less at-risk for psychological distress, which is often associated with anxiety disorders and depression.
Amira Johnson, LMSW, concedes social media isn’t all bad, but it can be bad enough to prompt individuals to re-evaluate the value it has in their lives.
“In many cases, social platforms can offer encouraging communities for people to connect with like-minded individuals, find new friends, and open themselves up to new information and ideas,” Johnson says. “But it can also be a hotspot for…an incessant amount of negative comments…Social media and the negativity, judgment, and hate-filled comments that come with it can take a toll on anyone’s mental well-being.”
- decreased FOMO (fear of missing out) from looking at other people’s vacations and milestones
- enhanced appreciation for the life you’re living
- reduced information overload from seeing bad news unfold in real-time
- ability to live in the moment
“When I talk to my clients after they’ve taken a social media detox, it’s as if they’re different people,” Johnson says. “Unchaining themselves from social feeds allows for a mental boost where you can just enjoy life…and stop comparing yourself to others you don’t even know but just see on a small screen.”
Though anyone can take a social media break for any reason, Don Grant, PhD, MA, MFA, DAC, SUDCC IV, particularly recommends it for people who:
- constantly negatively compare themselves to others online
- feel less confident, content, or happy after scrolling social media
- are losing sleep from compulsively viewing or posting content
- frequently regret posting content
- are affected emotionally hours or even days after engaging on social media
“Any of these experiences can take a serious hit to your self-esteem, healthy emotional homeostasis, physical well-being, and overall happiness,” says Grant, the executive director of outpatient services for Newport Healthcare.
That said, Shelton cautions that it’s important not to see social media breaks as a cure-all for mental health issues. She says if you are still feeling the emotions that triggered the break while you’re on it or when you return, you may need more help. She suggests seeking a mental health provider by:
- searching online for a therapist in your area
- calling your insurance company to find in-network therapists
- online databases, such as Psychology Today
Social media breaks can be beneficial, but Grant says there are a few cons to consider before logging off, including:
- feelings of isolation
- difficulty keeping up with the lives of a large number of family and friends
- fewer ways to express yourself or be creative
- fewer chances to expand your network, socially and professionally
- challenges keeping up with the news, including uplifting stories
“When used with its best purpose and intentions, social media can be a terrific tool,” Grant says.
But again, the break doesn’t need to be forever — even a short one has its benefits.
“You get to create the rules for how long it is, the guidelines around it, and what you share with others,” Vasan says.
Vasan suggests following this basic step-by-step:
- State your reason for taking the break
- Decide on the duration and if you’re detoxing from specific platforms or all of them
- Optional: Announce you’re leaving
- Be kind to yourself if you slip up
“I think it is important when people are taking a break to engage in mindful reflection around understanding the specific aspects of social media and why they need a break,” Vasan says. “You can use this reflection to personalize the break to fit your own needs.”
This customization includes the duration, which Vasan says is highly individual.
“In the same way that someone can feel refreshed from a one-day vacation, while someone else needs one week or one month to feel fully rejuvenated, the amount of time away from social media totally depends on you and what you need.,” she says.
Vasan says announcing that you’re taking a break and how else to reach you can reduce confusion and worry from others. It may also help you feel less isolated.
Social media is a large part of many people’s lives. You may be unable to resist the urge to log on or do so accidentally.
“Don’t judge yourself, and don’t feel like you fully have to dive into social media if you slipped,” Vasan says.
Mental health challenges have surged since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020.
Young people have notably been affected. U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued an advisory on youth mental health, saying it was exacerbated by the pandemic, in December of 2021.
Holland isn’t the only one speaking out about mental health and the need to take a break.
Last summer, Olympic gymnast Simone Biles pulled out of the all-around and team competitions, citing mental health issues. Champion tennis player Naomi Osaka expressed her need for a break after losing in the U.S. Open in 2021.
Grant says these conversations and announcements are breaking down the stigma around mental health.
“Mental health already has a looming stigma where people are embarrassed or ashamed to address it and talk about their personal experiences,” Grant says. “Over the years, it has definitely become more normalized due to the fact that more public figures have decided to be more open about their own experiences.”
Grant says celebrities’ large platforms reach millions and show individuals they aren’t alone.
“It allows for those who idolize them to realize they are human just like the rest of us,” Grant says. “It lets people know that maintaining your mental health is important, whether you’re an average human or have 1 million social followers.”
And Grant believes this message can be life-saving.
“Going forward, I hope it encourages more people to get the help and support they may need,” he says. “The more we talk about mental health openly, the more we can save lives.”