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FOMO: A DSM-5 Worthy Mental Illness?

Imagine that you are alone at home watching a movie on a Friday night, scrolling through Instagram, and you land on a post of some of your friends hanging out. Seeing that your friends are beaming with happiness in the pictures, you will most likely have one of the two drastically different reactions— continue your movie or feel the sudden hit of FOMO.

Known as the fear of missing out, FOMO is a common feeling among individuals, especially college students. Ranging from feeling a “deeper sense of social inferiority” to loneliness and intense range, FOMO, a not-so-simple term, includes two processes: the acknowledgment of missing out on an event and the urge to maintain a social connection through compulsive behaviors [2]. Usually caused by missing a satisfying occasion, the social uneasiness is similar to a myriad of anxiety disorders with symptoms comparable to depression and narcissism [5]. Nonetheless, despite the parallelism to some recognized disorders, FOMO is still not considered a mental illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

According to the DSM-5, a mental disorder is a “syndrome characterized by clinically significant disturbance in an individual's cognition, emotion regulation, or behavior that reflects a dysfunction in the psychological, biological, or developmental processes underlying mental functioning” [4]. This disruption is usually directly related to “significant distress or disability in social, occupational, or other important activities,” which all align with what FOMO can bring—the constant self-destruction due to the intense desire to remain up-to-date with the activities of others [4]. In fact, studies have shown that FOMO is strikingly similar to separation anxiety and social anxiety disorder, both of which are listed in the DSM-5 [1]. They all share the similarity of an individual worrying about what others are doing, which can lead to “poor mood,” “dysregulated sleep,” and “decreased sense of life satisfaction” [1]. By consistently comparing and contrasting their lives to others, one will inevitably undergo a reduction in self-esteem, where the risk of experiencing acute symptoms can rapidly increase. Specifically, some may even face depressive symptoms from overthinking and crafting unrealistic expectations based on assumptions, both of which are precursors of breaking one’s spirit.

Yet, who is mainly affected by FOMO? Since FOMO relates heavily to the amount of time spent on social media as the outlets are usually used to upload happy moments, then the more serious effects would most likely be faced by those who are usually online. In a Belgian study, 6.5% of the 1000 subjects who were exposed to social media had lower emotional stability, perceived control, and self-esteem [1]. At first glance, the percentage does not seem high, but it means that 65 out of the 1000 people faced a consequence to a certain extent, which is still a notable amount of individuals who could encounter serious affective disorders.

Just like some of the illnesses listed in the DSM-5, FOMO can also bring detrimental effects at varying severities that can exceed a comfortable threshold.

Simply, the act of opening social media and landing on a post of a missed social event can lead to FOMO. But, in addition to the act of browsing through social media, those who spend too much time on any of the social platforms can face a significantly higher risk of suicidal and narcissistic thoughts. An individual may start to go on a mental rollercoaster with distorted perceptions of the lives of others where the continuous awareness of what they are missing is invariably looped. With the expected enjoyment others may have had at an event, the feeling of loneliness and being inadequate may arise, leading to larger issues that can have long-lasting effects [3].

The persistent need for meeting one’s social expectations can encourage risky and addictive behaviors that can imminently impact their psychological or developmental processes, which is the core criteria for illnesses in the DSM-5. Even though the usage of online platforms can affect the degree to which FOMO is experienced, the feeling can still leave aftermath significant enough to hurt an individual. Considering the diverse outcomes, FOMO should be further studied and added to the DSM-5, especially when the anxious feeling can lead to a larger domino effect. Only when the big picture is examined, then we can determine which levels of FOMO are suitable to be implemented into the DSM-5 to officially be a mental illness.


1. Adams, S. K., Murdock, K. K., Daly-Cano, M., & Rose, M. (2020). Sleep in the Social World of College Students: Bridging Interpersonal Stress and Fear of Missing Outwith Mental Health. Behavioral sciences (Basel, Switzerland), 10(2), 54.

2. Gupta, M., & Sharma, A. (2021). Fear of missing out: A brief overview of origin, theoretical underpinnings and relationship with mental health. World journal of clinical cases, 9(19), 4881–4889.

3. Rifkin, J., Cindy, C., Kahn, B. (2015). Fomo: How the Fear of Missing Out Leads to Missing Out. NA Advances in Consumer Research (43rd ed.).

4. Stein, D. 4.J., Palk, A. C., & Kendler, K. S. (2021). What is a mental disorder? An exemplar focused approach. Psychological medicine, 51(6), 894–901.

5. Vaidya, N., Jaiganesh, S., 5. Krishnan, J. (2015). Prevalence of Internet addiction and its impact on the physiological balance of mental health. National Journal of Physiology Pharmacy and Pharmacology.

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