A Deeper Look Into How Social Media Portrays The Mental Health of College Students

How Social Media Inaccurately Portrays the Mental Health of College Students:

A society can be defined as a group of people involved in persistent social interaction, or a large social grouping sharing the same geographical or social territory, typically subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations (Wikipedia). As a college student it is common to feel the intense social pressures that are associated with being part of a society. These social pressures to “fit in” and be “normal” are the fundamental problems that ultimately lead to an increase in poor mental health that is often seen in today’s society. Current social media platforms are often at the forefront of depicting this image of college students. In my opinion, my identity as a college student is being misrepresented in numerous different social media platforms. The Social Network and Accepted are two well-known movies that inaccurately portray the mental health of college students by showing main characters that are subject to extreme self-consciousness, social anxiety and conforming to the social pressures of society.

The Social Network is an American biographical drama film released in 2010 depicting the creation of Facebook through the eyes of Mark Zuckerberg, the mastermind behind the world’s largest social network. The main purpose is to tell the story of how Facebook became a $44.2-billion-dollar company with 1.59 billion monthly active users. A key theme I noticed within the movie is how they portrayed Mark Zuckerberg as being an arrogant, rude, and offensive college student that wanted nothing more than to fit in and be “cool.”

A billion dollars is cool meme

After extensive research, I discovered a movie review of The Social Network written on WordPress.com titled “Why The Social Network Should Win Best Picture” by Joseph Donovan. Donovan is a member of the Ave Maria University Film Society and offers a great perspective of the movie. Donovan presents some very interesting ideas bringing in the terms “internet generation” and “microcosm” to describe the Mark Zuckerberg character. He describes social media as a “revolutionary way to communicate, a way which for the most part was free, uncensored, and anonymous.” Throughout the post Donovan mentions numerous ideas about Mark Zuckerberg, one time stating “It can be argued that the entire motivation for developing Facebook came from a feeling of social and personal insignificance.” He supports this idea by drawing on the scenes where Mark Zuckerberg’s character is rejected from prestigious Harvard final clubs. He also presents the idea that “Zuckerberg channels his pains of jealousy into his programming, in an angry attempt to ‘distinguish himself’ in a world where ‘social structure is everything’.” He wraps the review up by saying that “the vague dichotomy between ‘cool’ and ‘uncool’ is what defines Zuckerberg’s philosophy throughout the film.”

In my opinion, I feel that Donovan shed light on a very interesting perspective of the movie. His main points support the idea that there are many college students that have mental health issues such as feeling social and personal insignificance and that can look to address these issues through social media. The movie promotes the generalization that college students are subject to conforming to social structure and that they are self-centered people who obsess over their self-image and persona. It is true that some college students obsess over their self-image and persona, but at Portland State University I haven’t noticed it all too much. I think that the students at PSU are more diverse and unique in comparison to students at other colleges. Many of the students don’t care about what people think of them but rather hold value in doing the things they love to do. This movie creates a false generalization about college students and the way they act.

500 million friends meme

Accepted is an American comedy film that was released in mid-August of 2006. The movie is centered around a group of high school graduates who are unfortunately rejected from all of the colleges in which they applied. Being subject to the social pressures of society as well as the pressure of their parents, the group strives to satisfy this societal approval by creating a fake college in which they can “attend.” The story continues to unfold when unexpectedly hundreds of rejected college students are accepted to their fake college institution.

Accepted movie poster

“When every college turned them down… they made on up” – Accepted

After doing some research on the movie I discovered two movie reviews that uncover some of the main underlying themes and real life societal stereotypes of college students depicted in this film. In the New York Times movie review it mentions that this is a movie about a high school poster child of corporate anti-conformity. I agree with this idea simply because it is obvious that it is addressing the common societal expectation of going to college and becoming a successful person. I think it is something that many kids are pressured with today simply because college is much more accessible in this era. Back in the day, it was rare to go to college. College wasn’t something that was expected of students in the previous generations. The idea of corporate anti-conformity is seen as a problem which ultimately results in mental health issues for college students.

The plugged in article also mentions a few great ideas. It drew from the fact that the dean of the real Harmon college wants to eliminate half of the campus housing so that he can reject many students and be as prestigious as Yale. I think that is a very important idea to analyze. Colleges these days are so worried about being the most prestigious that they aren’t aware of the role it plays in students’ lives. The article concludes by stating that “Accepted wants to be about rebels who fight authority and scream that the rigid structure of formal education is at odds with the passionate flow of unencumbered creativity.” I believe that this movie portrays the common struggles of being a college student and the social pressures of being “accepted.” The movie inaccurately represents the lengths in which students will go in order to conform to the general academic views of society and ultimately makes it seem like college students have poor mental health. Students these days take great pride in working hard and attending the college of their dreams. From personal experience, I know that college students don’t generally do this when they aren’t accepted into their initial desired colleges.

Overall, today’s social media often depicts college students based off of some stereotype whether it’s the partier, the brainiac or everything in between. But the core underlying theme is that each of these stereotypes is associated with some type of mental health issue. For example, the partier is always worried about what others think of them and posting the best Instagram picture, and the brainiac is always the smartest person in the room but also the quietest and most socially awkward. For example, it’s unheard of in society to have star athletes also be known for their academic excellence, or brainiacs as the most popular kids in school. I personally feel that my identity as a college student is being misrepresented and that it is a growing problem. I understand that people often find it entertaining to see these types of stereotypes depicted in movies, but if you take a step back you realize that these movies act as a frame for who you are in society and which stereotype you fit into. In a sense, these movies limit who you can be as a person by telling you what you can and cannot do. In reality, college students can be whoever they want to be. Students can study anything they want which is why people say college helps you find out who you really are. Society should encourage students to find out who they truly are rather than making them conform to one of the many stereotypes. In conclusion, I think that portraying college students as having poor mental health or matching them to the common societal stereotypes is deteriorating society as a whole.

How Social Media Has the Potential to Create Mental Health Issues for College Students:

“Social Media Is Changing How College Students Deal with Mental Health, For Better Or Worse” is an article published by the Huffington Post: College Edition and is written by Riley Griffin, a sophomore at Duke University. The article targets the effects that social media has upon the mental health of college students. I think this article is important because it shows the relationship between social media and college students. It doesn’t necessarily state that not social media portrays college students as having mental health issues but rather that the college students themselves can use social media to create mental health issues. It draws on one situation in which a female at Duke University experienced the social pressures of being a freshman in college. She found it difficult to adjust to college life and relied on social media platforms as an escape from reality. She expressed that “In the current college culture, ‘the perfect girl on Instagram’ looks like she’s having ‘so much fun,’ has more followers than she is following, and collects ‘likes’ in nanoseconds.” The article states that “College students today are more detached from their peers than ever before. Research shows they’re less likely to have tangible relationships; enter college having spent less time socializing as teens; are more likely to be heavily medicated; and feel a greater pressure to be academically and socially successful than in the past.” According to Experian Simmons, a consumer insight service, more than 98% of college-aged students use social media. In conclusion, this article offers a valuable perspective on the social media vs. college students situation by demonstrating that many college students actually have poor mental conditions and that a good portion of it stems from social media. Although some may suffer from these conditions, I feel that it is not just to associate all college students in social media with poor mental health conditions as it makes the stereotype even larger. The following article is written by Katlyn Tolly and supports some of the same ideas that are presented in this article.

Social media use

X Axis: Year (2005-2015)     Y Axis: % on Social Media (0-100)

“Does Social Media Affect Students Self Esteem” is an interesting article I found browsing the USA Today: College website that supports some of the same ideas in the article presented above. As mentioned earlier, this article is written by Katlyn Tolly, a student at Columbia College Chicago studying journalism and marketing. The purpose of the article is to highlight the idea that social media is negatively affecting college students and has the potential to create mental health issues. The article addresses this idea by surveying 23 college students, 20 of which believed that social media caused anxiety or added stress to college students lives. I thought it was interesting how they highlighted that students have experienced anxiety when looking at other student’s pictures. After further reading, I found that it wasn’t simply because of seeing a picture, but that the anxiety stemmed more from jealousy, comparison and the fear of missing out. It initially sounds odd, but it is something that I have experienced and I am sure that many other people have as well. When walking through the campus of Portland State University, it is common to see students using social media sites. Normally they are either looking at pictures posted by their friends or posting photos themselves. This contributes to the never ending circle of envy and jealousy. Seeing a picture of your friends adventuring and having fun while you are studying can create negative vibes and ultimately result in mental health issues. In conclusion, this source supports the idea that college students play the main role in social media usage and how it affects them.


After analyzing both my primary and secondary sources, I have came to the conclusion that there is definitely a problem in today’s popular culture that negatively affects college students. The misrepresentation of college students and their mental health through social media has the potential to make this issue even larger. Based on my personal experience as a college student, many of the stereotypes that were alluded to in The Social Network and Accepted were not necessarily accurate when comparing them to students at Portland State University. Many of the party goers that are depicted in these two films aren’t common at Portland State. By stereotyping college students, it gives the entire college student population a bad reputation. Many of my peers at Portland State are very hardworking and take pride in the work they do. I think that there needs to be a better representation of ALL college students so all of them can feel appreciated and motivated to perform well. By improving the way social media portrays the mental health of college students, I believe that there will be a positive effect on the way college students act socially and perform academically.

Significant Moments in Popular Culture:

One of the most significant events we had as a class was when each of us was assigned in Week 3 to analyze the Blu Electronic Cigarette ad. In my opinion, this was the most beneficial activity because we got to see how marketers target their specific markets and how much attention to detail they put into these ads. For example, in the Blu Cigarette ad many of us noticed that there was a specific color scheme used in order to portray a very cool and slick type vibe. The color of the clothes the model is wearing matches not only the background of the ad but the product itself. This technique is very beneficial and I think it is cool to be able to decipher these marketing campaigns.


A second valuable event that we had in this class was the synchronous Google Chat activity. This was a very beneficial tool to have and without this class I would have never known about it. In Popular Culture, we used Google Chat in order to virtually meet with classmates and work on our thesis statements. This activity was very helpful because it allowed us to get multiple different perspectives of our thesis statements. I believe sharing your work with others in order to get feedback is extremely beneficial because often times we don’t think about every possible perspective. Peer editing not only allows us to get an idea of what others are working on but also allows us to further develop our own work and understanding. Overall, I found the synchronous activity to be one of the most valuable and beneficial activities so far.













2 thoughts on “A Deeper Look Into How Social Media Portrays The Mental Health of College Students

  1. Anthony,

    I really liked your post. I found your comparison of the stereotypes in the movies and social media especially interesting. I have to agree that Portland State students (or the ones I know, at least) do not fit the mold that was set up by “The Social Network” and “Accepted.” My friends are pretty responsible and studious. I wouldn’t label them as party-goers or self-obsessed wrecks. Social media definitely can create some anxiety. If there is any trend in mental health in collage students, I could see that being a contributing factor. I bet that the self-consciousness and social anxiety is true for all young adults, though. I have some friends who are not in collage and they are also affected by social media. Overall, I thought your post was really interesting and had great information.


    • By the way, I also felt that the analyzing advertisement lesson was a highlight. I’ll probably never look at an ad without at least some extra thought.

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