A recent survey conducted by an independent an charity focused on health education, the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), shows that social media platform Instagram has users spending an hour or more scrolling through their feed, directing linking to negative effects in young people’s mental health.
In an aim to investigate social media’s effect on young people’s mental health, RSPH recently conducted a survey of 1,479 people between the ages of 14-24. The results show how social media sites are directly linked to anxiety and depression amongst young people, both of which have risen by over 70% in the past 25 years.
The survey investigated Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube, and Twitter – the five most commonly used social media platforms.
With 700 million users globally, Instagram was revealed to be the worst social network for negative effects on mental health. This is an alarming fact considering today’s youth can access the internet at a click of a finger, and spend more than an hour a day scrolling through social media feeds.
“91% of 16-24 year olds use the internet for social networking, which for the most part is done over social media”
Whilst Instagram had the most negative impact on mental health, YouTube was the most positive platform, with Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat following respectively. Instagram has a reputation for “focusing on perfection” and uploading flawless selfies, putting much importance and pressure on appearing and body types. By contrast, YouTube and Twitter have grown to be platforms where open discussions on health, image and body shapes is encouraged.
Instagram has been directly linked to Orthorexia, a condition involving obsessive behaviour in pursuit of a healthy diet. This is not surprising when you consider how Instagram can increase anxiety, lower self-esteem, and create issues with body image through young teens spending hours comparing themselves to picture perfect profiles. It is also speculated to be one of the main catalysts to the recent “live to eat” culture of today’s youth, where food is more about how good it looks in a picture, than its taste or nutritious value.
It is clear that social media behaviours must change. Research published in the Journal of Youth Studies found that one in five young people wake up during the night to check their phones, causing them to feel exhausted during the day.
The research, which revealed 90% of young people aged 16-34 spend a significant amount of time on social media, shows spending an hour or more a day scrolling your feed is directly correlated to mental health issues. The RSPH together with the Young Health Movement, a collective of individuals run by the RSPH striving to raise public health awareness in young people, are calling for reform.
With their main aim being a change in attitude towards social media, the RSPH and Young Health Movement want an introduction of preventative measures, including a “heavy usage” warning on social media, an obligation from social media platforms to disclose when images have been digitally manipulated, and the power for social media to identify those who could be suffering from mental health problems and discretely signposting support.
Social media can be an incredible tool for networking, improving young people’s access to other people’s experiences of life, and even in some cases provide a network of support for users. However, with so much of our young population using social media coupled with the disturbing findings of the RSPH stud, and numerous other studies recently being published, a change in attitude is imperative to ensure mental health amongst young people remains strong.