People who use dating apps are usually looking for love, something casual, or just a sweet, sweet hit of match-induced oxytocin. But one Saskatchewan researcher says they might run into something else: mental health problems.
“You can open up a dating app and there are hundreds of potential matches, and therefore you’re experiencing rejection … at sort of an unprecedented rate,” said Brandon Sparks, a PhD student with the University of Saskatchewan’s psychology department.
“If you really internalize that, you can feel like you’re maybe not a very attractive person or that you don’t have much to offer.”
Sparks said researchers have explored the physical dangers of dating apps, but scrutiny on the mental risks is lacking. He found links to depression and anxiety when he surveyed about 500 U of S students about their experiences on dating apps like Bumble, Hinge and Tinder.
People’s self-esteem might take a hit when they see others clean up online while their own messages to potential partners go unanswered, Sparks said.
“Their perception of how they’re doing against their competition, essentially, is related to both depression and dating-related anxiety,” he said. “Those who think they’re doing worse than their peers demonstrate higher levels of depression … and the same for dating anxiety.”
Sparks broke the survey responses down by gender and found many women jump on the Tinder train when they want to get over an ex. Some reported that their self-esteem is tied to their relationship status.
“It’s almost as if they’re internalizing being single as not being whole, and they’re trying to get over that ex because being single … is detrimental to their self-esteem,” Sparks said.
U of S student counsellor Terri Peterson said meaningful connection is critical for young adults, many of whom use dating apps.
“We understand ourselves through the eyes of the people around us,” she said. “So what if that eye is a device, mostly, and we’re being … swiped back and forth?”
Some of the students she works with struggle with feeling objectified, while others feel dating apps put their private life in the public sphere, Peterson said.
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“For young people, they’re just getting clear about who they are, so they’re vulnerable,” she said. “Being on an app that’s judging them purely from a … superficial understanding could be very hard on someone’s sense of self.”
People can be mindful of their mental health by setting boundaries and limiting time spent swiping, she said.
“People have to really kind of stop and think about, ‘What’s my experience? Am I enjoying this? Is this making me feel like I’m growing relationally?’”
Sparks said people can navigate the universal experience of rejection by being aware of their limits and insecurities.
“If you’re aware that your self-esteem is highly influenced by your relationship status and the quality of your relationship … be aware that you might respond more negatively or feel more hurt when you don’t match with someone or when you get rejected,” he said.