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Instagram worst social network for youth mental health, report finds

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The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) joined forces with the Young Health Movement on a study into the impacts of social media on young people’s mental health, and found that Instagram could be the most psychologically damaging social network.

The organisations conducted a survey of almost 1,500 young people living in UK, asking them to score the most popular social media platforms according to their impact on aspects of health and wellbeing such as quality of sleep, depression, anxiety body image, real world relationships and fear of missing out (FOMO).

Their report, #StatusofMind, includes a “league table” of social media platforms based on the survey responses, ranking the platforms by their impact on young people’s mental health.

YouTube was ranked as most beneficial of the five most popular platforms, followed by Twitter and then Facebook. Photo-centric Snapchat and Instagram appeared at the bottom of the ranking.

The organisations behind the report are calling for government action – as well as action from social media companies – to tackle the negative impacts of social media, while promoting the positive aspects.

“For young people, using social media and digital technologies as a tool to help with mental health makes sense for many reasons. Social media is part of their daily lives and so care could be delivered in a lifestyle-integrated, self-managed approach,” said Dr Becky Inkster, a University of Cambridge neuroscientist.

“This holistic perspective could integrate personal interests and activities. It might help improve psychoeducation, increase self-awareness of mental health and act as a preventative measure.”

The report’s recommendations include the implementation of pop-up warnings making users aware of heavy social media usage (which is supported by 71 per cent of survey respondents), highlighting when photos of people have been digitally manipulated (supported by 68 per cent) and requiring social media companies to identify users likely to be suffering from mental illness and signpost support (supported by 80 per cent).

“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, chief executive of the RSPH. “It’s interesting to see Instagram and Snapchat ranking as the worst for mental health and wellbeing – both platforms are very image-focused and it appears they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people.

“As the evidence grows that there may be potential harm from heavy use of social media, and as we upgrade the status of mental health within society, it is important that we have checks and balances in place to make social media less of a wild west when it comes to young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

“We want to promote and encourage the many positive aspects of networking platforms and avoid a situation that leads to social media psychosis, which may blight the lives of our young people.”

During a recent visit to a school in West London, Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge and second in line to the throne, warned school students not to “spend all day online” in order to look after their mental health.

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