We’ve all heard about the studies linking social media to mental ill-health. It’s been shown to make us feel socially isolated, depressed, anxious and can even lower our social trust. While it does have its benefits, for instance, in making some of us feel less alone, we know we probably shouldn’t be spending as much time online as we do.
But all social media platforms are not made equal, according to a new survey. Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter all harm young people’s mental wellbeing but apparently Instagram is the biggest culprit. Damn.
The online survey by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) asked 1,479 people aged 14-24 to rate the apps on health and wellbeing criteria including anxiety, depression, loneliness, bullying, body image and fear of missing out.
Instagram scored the lowest, rating poorly on seven of the 14 measures, followed by Snapchat. The ‘gram fared particularly badly for its impact on sleep, body image and FOMO, along with bullying, feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness. (It’s easy to forget that, no, a Sunday night scroll when you’re already feeling like crap won’t make anything better.)
But it wasn’t found to be all bad, with young people saying Instagram had a positive effect on their self-expression, self-identity and emotional support.
Only YouTube was judged to have a positive impact on mental health, scoring highly in nine of the 14 categories, including awareness and understanding of others’ health experiences, self-expression, loneliness, depression and emotional support.
However, YouTube ranked very badly for its impact on sleep. (Admittedly, watching vloggers talk us through the varieties of kale and pasta they bought during their latest supermarket trip can be pretty addictive on a lonely evening. Or maybe that's just me...)
“It’s interesting to see Instagram and Snapchat ranking as the worst for mental health and wellbeing,” said Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the RSPH. “Both platforms are very image-focused and it appears that they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people.”
Tough measures need to be put in place to “make social media less of a wild west when it comes to young people’s mental health and wellbeing,” she said. Proposed measures include pop-ups warning people they've been online for too long, social media sites "discreetly signposting" places for sufferers to get mental health support, and platforms pointing out when photos have been digitally altered with a small icon.
But Professor Sir Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, criticised the findings. He said they were too simplistic in the way they blamed social media for young people's mental ill-health, reported The Guardian.
“I am sure that social media plays a role in unhappiness, but it has as many benefits as it does negatives," he said, adding that children need to be taught how to cope with both the good and bad sides of social media. "There is real danger in blaming the medium for the message.” Either way, it pays to take stock of our online habits every so often.