Instagram may be the best place to share pics of your latest veggie lasagna creation, or if you’re WWE wrestler Braun Strowman, nice shots of your beat up elbow, but science says that social media could very well be affecting your mental health, with a new study finding that compared to other popular platforms, Instagram turns out to be the most damaging.
More addictive than cigarettes and alcohol, linked to poor sleep habits and known to be a ripe environment for cyber bullying, social media sites like Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram have also become increasingly connected to mental health problems.
Studies have shown that young people who spend more than two hours per day on social media sites are more likely to report symptoms of anxiety, depression and psychological distress. The association is strong enough that in one study, researchers were able to accurately predict depression in individuals based solely on their social media use.
Now, a report from the United Kingdom’s Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) has found that four of the top five social media platforms have a net negative effect on mental health, with Instagram coming out worst of the bunch and only YouTube producing a positive impact.
The RSPH conducted a UK-wide survey of 1,479 youth aged from 14 to 24 years, questioning them on issues such as self-expression, body image, real world relationships and community building.
Overall, participants said that YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram all had positive impacts on individual self-expression, self-identity and community building yet four of the five were found to negatively affect issues such as anxiety, depression and body image. Only YouTube was said to have a net positive impact on anxiety and depression and a smaller negative impact on body image. In total, the study found that
Instagram had the greatest net negative effect and Snapchat the second greatest.
The report’s authors say that by their very nature, social media platforms contribute to the fear of missing out, effectively causing social media users to keep using to try to stay connected. As well, the more image-based formats are said to be especially problematic because they provide an “almost endless potential” for youth to compare themselves and their experiences to others.
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"It's interesting to see Instagram and Snapchat ranking as the worst for mental health and well being -both platforms are very image-focused and it appears they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people,” says Shirley Cramer, Chief Executive with RSPH.
The report recommends social media platforms include more proactive measures, such as pop-ups that warn users of “heavy usage,” that platforms help identify users who could be suffering from mental health problems and that they highlight when photos have been digitally manipulated.
“As the evidence grows that there may be potential harms from heavy use of social media, and as we upgrade the status of mental health within society, it is important that we have checks and balances in place to make social media less of a wild west when it comes to young people's mental health and wellbeing,” says Cramer.
Currently, 91 per cent of youth and young adults aged 16 to 24 use the internet for social media in comparison to 51 per cent of 55 to 64 year olds. In Canada, 64 per cent of the population has a social media profile. Ontario has the most users at 67 per cent of the population, while Quebec has the least at 49 per cent.