In recent studies by the United Kingdom’s Royal Society for Public Health, Instagram was voted the worst social media platform for mental health between the ages 14-24. The survey, called #statusofmind, revealed that out of five of the biggest social media sites in the world—Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and YouTube—Instagram is the most detrimental to teenagers’ brains and is said to cause high levels of stress, depression, anxiety, and body image issues. YouTube was voted most positive.
While Instagram was also credited for its promotion of individuality and self expression, other aspects of the app can outweigh the positives. One in six people will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives, and levels of depression and anxiety has risen 70% in teens in 25 years. The cause of that could be in teen’s phones. “Our own research has shown that young people themselves say four of the five most used social media platforms actually make their feelings of anxiety worse,” said Royal Society for Public Health chief executive Shirley Cramer. “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.”
The study explained that when Instagram users compare themselves to other people’s picture perfect photos, they can feel lesser than, as if their lives aren’t as significant. They develop a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) and compare their current situation with others. “These feelings can promote a ‘compare and despair’ attitude in young people,” said Cramer.
Another issue the study mentioned is cyber bullying. Seven in ten young people have said to experienced it on the platform. Since people can say whatever they want behind a screen, there has been a promotion of harsh and hurtful words being said among teens, resulting in lower self esteem and self worth. Considering Instagram can’t be monitored 24/7, there are bound to be issues.
The last issue raised was about sleep loss. Usage of social media has a direct link to sleep quality. With teens using their phones late into the night, sleep quality can be heavily affected, thus throwing the body’s whole circadian rhythm off balance. This may lead to anxiety. “Sleep and mental health are tightly linked. Poor mental health can lead to poor sleep and poor sleep can lead to states of poor mental health,” suggested Cramer.
The #StatusofMind study ended with some suggestions for Instagram to improve their platform. For one, they suggested adding a pop-up heavy usage warning on the app. “The social media platform would track usage and provide the user with a pop-up warning when they breach a set level of usage deemed potentially harmful. It is then up to the user to decide if they carry on using the platform or stop, although the warning may provide links to information and advice on social media addiction.” 71% of young people supported this. Next they thought of highlighting photos that have been digitally manipulated with some sort of watermark. “Young people, and in particular young women, are bombarded with images that attempt to pass off the edited off as the norm. This practice is contributing to a generation of young people with poor body image and body confidence.” 68% agreed that was a good idea. Lastly, the study suggested safe social media use be taught in schools to give teens the tools to properly navigate social media in a way that could protect their mental health, and not destroy it.
This study has helped expose the dangers of social media and advised youth to limit their usage in the future.