Royal Society for Public Health: Worst Social Media App for Youths’ Mental Health Is Instagram


Can social media be bad for your mental health? Which social media platform is the worst? The Young Health Movement and the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) investigates in its latest report #StatusOfMind.

According to RSPH, Instagram is the most detrimental social networking app for young people’s mental health, followed closely by Snapchat, according to a new report by the Royal Society for Public Health in the UK published Friday. Among Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube; each app was given a weighted score regarding positive and negative factors.

Emotional Support
Real world relationships
Community building

Sleep (lack of)
Body image
FoMO (Fear of Missing Out)

The RPSH study, #StatusofMind, surveyed almost 1,500 young people aged 14 to 24 on how certain social media platforms impact health and well-being issues such as anxiety, depression, self-identity and body image.

Anxiety can have a hugely detrimental impact on a young person’s life. Feelings of overwhelming worry and panic can take over and make it hard for them to leave the house, attend classes or lectures, or perform at work. Anxiety may be diagnosed as a specific mental health disorder such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), panic disorder, social anxiety disorder or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

As well as anxiety disorders, nearly 80,000 children and young people in the UK suffer with severe depression. There is growing evidence linking social media use and depression in young people, with studies showing that increased use is associated with significantly increased odds of depression.

Body image is an issue for many young people, both male and female, but particularly females in their teens and early twenties. As many as nine in 10 teenage girls say they are unhappy with their body.

Victims of bullying are more likely to experience low academic performance, depression, anxiety, self-harm, feelings of loneliness and changes in sleeping and eating patterns – all of which could alter the course of a young person’s life as they undertake important exams at school or university, and develop personally and socially.

Cyberbullying can take many forms including the posting of negative comments on pictures and directed abuse via private messages. Almost all social networking sites have a clear anti-bullying stance. However, a national survey conducted by Bullying UK found that 91% of young people who reported cyber bullying said that no action was taken.

91% of 16-24 year olds use the internet for social networking

Rates of anxiety and depression have increased 70% in the past 25 years

Social media is linked with increased rates of anxiety, depression and poor sleep

Social media has been described as more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol

Rates of anxiety and depression in young people have risen 70% in the past 25 years

Cyber bullying is a growing problem with 7 in 10 young people saying they have experienced it

Social media can improve young people’s access to other people’s experiences of health and expert health information

Those who use social media report being more emotionally supported through their contacts

— Royal Society of Public Health

Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter all demonstrated negative effects overall on young people’s mental health. The study found YouTube had the most positive impact.

Instagram is an app that is mostly images with less text involved. There are over 700 million users worldwide as of April 2017.

Instagram ranked first on the list in regarding negative impact, especially among young women, according to the report

Instagram draws young women to “compare themselves against unrealistic, largely curated, filtered and Photoshopped versions of reality,” said Matt Keracher, author of the report.

“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,'” according to an anonymous female respondent quoted in the report.

The Royal Society for Public Health has called for social media platforms to take action in order to help combat young users’ feelings of inadequacy and anxiety by placing a warning on images that have been digitally manipulated. RHSP recommends a watermark that identifies photos as digitally enhanced or modified could be utilized.

The concept of the ‘Fear of Missing Out’ (FoMO) is a relatively new one and has grown rapidly in popular culture since the advent and rise in popularity of social media. The term is particularly used by young people, with digital language research showing that 40% of parents do not know what the term means. In essence, FoMO is the worry that social events, or otherwise enjoyable activities, may be taking place without you present to enjoy them. FoMO is characterised by the need to be constantly connected with what other people are doing, so as not to miss out. FoMO is associated with lower mood and lower life satisfaction.


The survey concluded that while Instagram negatively affected body image, sleep patterns and added to a sense of “FoMO” — the fear of missing out — the image app was also a positive outlet for self-expression and self-identity for many of its young users.

“Platforms that are supposed to help young people connect with each other may actually be fueling a mental health crisis,”

— Shirley Cramer, CBE, RSPH (chief executive of RSPH)

YouTube was the only social media platform that demonstrated an overall positive impact on young people’s mental health in the study.

The RSPH report also discovered that it’s not just the content young people are consuming but also how long they are engaging with it.

Young people who spend more than two hours per day connecting on social networking sites are more likely to report poor mental health, including psychological distress, according to the report.

RSPH recommends the introduction of a pop-up warning to alert users that they have been online for too long.

Seven in 10 young people surveyed supported the recommendation, but experts believe since social media use is more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol, it’s not clear whether a “heavy usage” pop-up alert would modify behavior.

Instagram was acquired by Facebook in April 2012 for approximately US$1 billion in cash and stock.

See also …
RSPH Social media and young people’s mental health and wellbeing

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