News from the Field

#StatusOfMind: Instagram and Snapchat and their effect on mental health

Numerous studies have confirmed that social media usage can negatively impact mental health, but a new report called #StatusOfMind, published by Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) and the Young Health Movement (YHM), recently reported that Instagram, followed by Snapchat, is the worst social media app for young people’s mental health.

Surveying around 1,500 people between the ages of 14 and 24, RSPH asked participants to score how social media platforms impact health and wellbeing issues based on a number of criteria. Instagram scored the lowest on body image and sleep and the highest on FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out. A relatively new concept that has grown with the rise of social media, FOMO is the feeling that you need to stay connected because you’re worried that things could be happening without you. It’s often associated with lower mood and lower life satisfaction as a result of feeling that you’re missing out on life while others are enjoying theirs.

Snapchat also scored low on sleep and high on FOMO, as well as high on bullying. YouTube, followed by Twitter, scored the highest as having the most positive impact on awareness, self-expression, and community building. Twitter also scored high on self-expression and community building, as well as self-identity.

All of the platforms, except for YouTube, scored high on depression, anxiety, and loneliness.

The 14-24 age group coincides with the time period during which most major mental illnesses begin to become apparent. In my experience, as a young person within the age group observed in the recent study, apps like Instagram and Snapchat are extremely image-oriented, providing a distorted reality through image editing. With young people, these edited images can significantly affect their mental wellbeing. Unrealistic beauty standards can have a huge impact on low self image and self esteem with the pressure to obtain those standards, and can also contribute to bullying.

The exact extent to which heavy usage impacts young people’s mental health is still uncertain; however, researchers have studied often demonstrated the perceived addictive nature of social media. It is now a regular part of our daily lives, changing how we socialize and communicate with each other. The way in which a computer or phone screen often separates us from reality can be isolating.

On the other hand, those who use social media report finding more emotional support through their connections, communities, and self-expression. YouTube, for example, is frequently viewed for awareness campaigns, motivational speeches, and inspirational videos by popular youtubers.

The report included a call to action, with a list of ways to address the results of their study. In light of the findings, here are 5 ways you can ensure a healthier social media space for yourself and friends:

  1. Reach out to fellow social media users who indicate through their posts that they may be struggling. Ask them how they’re doing and remind them that help is available at the Crisis Text Line (Text BRAVE to 741741) or National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255).
  2. Let other users know when a photo you’re sharing has been digitally altered or filtered.
  3. Read our tips for healthy social media usage.
  4. Use social media as a tool to connect with others and improve mental health with tools like Koko, which you can access directly through Facebook Messenger to anonymously share stressors and positively reframe problems with the help of other peers.

Healthy usage of social media and taking an active role to ensure positive mental well-being for yourself and your peers through these platforms can make a difference in mental health awareness in young people. It is important to be mindful of the effect and impact of social media platforms. We have the power to shape the future of mental health advocacy on social media.