Instagram worst social media platform for mental health

Angelica Greene
May 19, 2017

Instagram has been named as the worst social media site in terms of its impact on mental health.

As part of a UK-based survey of nearly 1500 residents aged between 14 and 24, participants were asked to rank five popular social media platforms on which one had the most negative effect, regarding anxiety, depression, loneliness, bullying and body image.

Respondents were asked to score how each of the social media platforms they use impact upon issues such as anxiety, loneliness and community building.

Snapchat ranked the second worst for mental health and wellbeing, likely because both platforms are very "image focused".

"For young people, using social media and digital technologies as a tool to help with mental health make sense for many reasons".

However, the survey of nearly 1,500 people aged between 14 to 24, found Instagram was positive in terms of self-expression and self-identity.

Public health professionals are calling for a three-point plan to be enacted to head-off these trends; including pop-up warnings when people overuse social media; actively identifying users who may have a problem and "discreetly" signposting support and tagging images which have been digitally manipulated. It rated badly for seven of the 14 measures, particularly its impact on sleep, body image and fear of missing out - and also for bullying and feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness.

Based on the ratings given to each platform for the health and wellbeing-related issues, the five most popular platforms were given a net average score.

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"Social media has been described as more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol, and is now so entrenched in the lives of young people that it is no longer possible to ignore it when talking about young people's mental health issues", said Shirley Cramer CBE, chief executive, RSPH.

Professor Sir Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, told The Guardian: "I am sure that social media plays a role in unhappiness, but it has as many benefits as it does negatives".

That doesn't mean they're not working on the other platforms at all: 99% said they're working on Instagram, 67% on Facebook, 51% on Snapchat, 43% Twitter, 30% YouTube, and 28% Pinterest. We need to teach children how to cope with all aspects of social media - good and bad - to prepare them for an increasingly digitised world.

The organisations also said platforms such as Facebook should highlight when photos have been airbrushed - a move supported by more than two-thirds of young people.

"We also have a unique opportunity to communicate with young people on their terms and in creative ways".

Parents and mental health experts fear that platforms such as Instagram can make young users feel anxious and inadequate by facilitating hostile comments about their appearance or reminding them that they have not been invited to, for example, a party many of their peers are attending.

"Increasing safety within social media platforms is an important step and one we urge Instagram and other sites to act upon".

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