Social media an unlikely hero for mental health in COVID-19 isolation
March 17, 2020
As recommendations for social distancing intensify in the hopes of curbing the rapid spread of COVID-19, many people are working from home and are spending more time communicating with coworkers and peers via social media.
Natalie Bazarova, professor in the Department of Communication at Cornell University and director of the Cornell Social Media Lab, examines social-psychological and communication processes in social media and mobile interaction.
With the Prosocial Behaviors Collaborative project supported by the Cornell Center for Social Sciences, she and her collaborators are examining how students deal with these disruptions, as reflected in their discourse on university subreddits, and how stress peaks correspond to crisis response decisions and announcements at the university, local, state, and federal levels.
“This shift to more virtuality also entails a shift to more spatially bounded locales. On the one hand, we're going virtual for work collaboration and schoolwork; on the other hand, we are more geographically confined than ever, staying at home by ourselves or with our families. In some sense, we're experiencing the bifurcation between work and office, but integration of work and home.
“With the growth of physical isolation and confinement, the role of social media becomes ever so important in its capacity to fulfill multiple functions: informational, for learning about what's happening in the world and one's community; interpersonal, for staying connected with friends and acquaintances; communal coping, for individual and collective processing of unprecedented disruptions in our daily life and exchanging social support; entertainment, for filling in spare time and diversion.
“Youth are more prepared than anybody for their social interactions moving almost exclusively to virtual since most of their connections are already grounded in online communication, through texting and social apps, and they have been cohabiting in virtual and physical spaces effortlessly.
“A much more challenging situation is for college students, many of whom are experiencing dramatic changes to their routines and realities, including physical and educational infrastructures. I anticipate that we see more online college community building, organizing, and connecting in the absence of a physical proximity to students' campus communities. As students face these challenges, there are also increased risks of mental health and psychological distress, with a heightened need to provide institutional support for addressing and mitigating these risks remotely. I also anticipate the increased role of peer social support through online communities, groups, and one-to-one online communication.”