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Most dangerous social media app for mental health revealed

The study has been run in the U.K. and it comes from the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH). For the study, pollsters asked 1,479 young people, aged 14-24, to score popular social media apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube. The apps were rated across issues such as anxiety, depression, loneliness, bullying and body image.

Instagram came top as the app having the greatest adverse impact on the mental health of young people. However, the RSPH report also found many aspects of social media apps lacking, stating “social media may be fueling a mental health crisis” in young people. The Royal Society for Public Health study went on further, drawing the conclusion that social platforms need to flag up heavy social media use and also to identify users with evident mental health issues.

Mental health issues and social media include addiction (for which around 5 percent of so-called ‘digital natives’ suffer from); responses to bullying; and suffering through making unrealistic comparisons to others.

The report begins with some interesting statistics:

91 percent of 16-24 year olds use the internet for social networking;
This increase coincides with rates of anxiety and depression increasing among young people over the past 25 years;
Increased use of social media is is linked with increased rates of anxiety, depression and poor sleep.

With the survey results, according to the BBC, there were differences between the social media platforms. With the final ratings, YouTube was considered to have the most positive impact on mental health. The Google service was then followed by Twitter and then Facebook. However, Snapchat and Instagram fared poorly and they were given the lowest scores overall.

The report makes recommendations to help protect young people and to help address mental health issues. It recommends to social media outlets:

For the introduction of a pop-up heavy usage warning on social media;
Social media platforms need to identify users who could be suffering from mental health problems by their posts, and discretely signpost to support;
Social media platforms should highlight when photos of people have been digitally manipulated.

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Commenting on the way forwards, Shirley Cramer, who is the chief executive of the RSPH, stated to The Guardian: “It is interesting to see Instagram and Snapchat ranking as the worst for mental health and well-being – both platforms are very image-focused and it appears they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people.”

Something else that could be tried, according to Cramer, is with youth-workers and other professionals who engage with young people to have a digital (including social) media component in their training. Additionally, safe social media use could be taught in schools.

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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