According to a recent study of almost 1,500 teens and young adults, Instagram rates as the worst form of social media for mental health and wellbeing.
The app which is known as a platform for self-expression and self-identity has been associated with high levels of anxiety, depression, bullying and FOMO – “the fear of missing out.” Of the main 5 social media apps, Youtube scored highest followed by twitter by Facebook and then Snapchat – with Instagram coming in dead last.
The study asked participants to answer questions about how different social media platforms 14 different issues related to their mental and physical health. The platforms scored well when it came to self-identity, self-expression, community building and emotional support. YouTube scored especially well for bringing awareness to other people’s health experiences and providing access to trustworthy information in regards to health and wellness. They all scored poorly when it came to sleep quality, body image and bullying.
Previous studies have suggested that young people who spend more than two hours a day on social networking sites are more likely to report psychological distress. Seeing friends constantly on holiday or enjoying nights out can make young people feel like they are missing out while others enjoy life, the research stated. This can promote a ‘compare and despair’ attitude. Social media posts can also set unrealistic expectations and create feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem, the authors wrote. This may explain why Instagram, where personal photos take centre stage, received the worst scores for body image and anxiety. As one survey respondent wrote, “Instagram easily makes girls and women feel as if their bodies aren’t good enough as people add filters and edit their pictures in order for them to look ‘perfect’.”
Other research has found that the more social networks a young adult uses, the more likely he or she is to report depression and anxiety. Trying to navigate between different norms and friend networks on various platforms could be to blame, study authors say—although it’s also possible that people with poor mental health are drawn to multiple social-media platforms in the first place. To reduce the harmful effects of social media on children and young adults, phycologists are calling for social media companies to make changes. The report recommends the introduction of a pop-up “heavy usage” warning within these apps or website—something 71% of survey respondents said they’d support.
They also recommend that companies find a way to highlight when photos of people have been digitally manipulated, as well as identify and offer help to users who could be suffering from mental health problems. A feature rolled out on Instagram last year allowing users to anonymously report troublesome photos.
The government can also help, the report states. It calls for “safe social media use” to be taught during health education in schools, for professionals who work with youth to be trained in digital and social media and for more research to be conducted on the effects of social media on mental health.
The hope is to empower young adults to use social networks in a way that protects and promotes their health and wellbeing. Social media isn’t going away soon, nor should it. We must be ready to nurture the innovation that the future holds.
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