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Put social media in the binstagram for ‘Scroll-Free September’, experts advise

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The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) is launching a campaign to encourage people to cut down on time spent on social media, in order to improve their wellbeing.

Social media users will be challenged to stop scrolling through their Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter feeds for the entire month of September for “Scroll-Free September” in order to “take back control of [their] relationship with social media.”

For those who feel unable to stop using social media for a whole month, the RSPH suggests switching off social media at social events, in the evenings, in the bedroom and at school or work. Users who need to use instant messaging or social media for work purposes are encouraged to continue doing so.

The RSPH hopes that cutting down on social media could improve sleep, interpersonal relationships, self-esteem and general wellbeing.

According to a survey conducted by the RSPH, nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) of social media users would be willing to participate in the initiative, while nearly half believed that giving up social media would be good for their mental health. Two-fifths of young people said that it would improve their self-esteem and body image.

“The aim is that by the end of the month, we will be able to reflect back on what we missed, what we didn’t and what we got to enjoy instead of scrolling through our news feeds,” said Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the RSPH. “That knowledge could help us build a healthier, more balanced relationship with social media in the future.”

“Of course, we know this will be a challenge because of the addictive nature of social media technology, which is why we need to work closely with the government and the social media industry to create an online environment that is more conducive to positive mental health and wellbeing.”

In April, the RSPH published a study into the impact of social media on youth mental health, which found that Instagram was the worst offender, while YouTube had the most positive impact. Excessive social media use has been consistently linked in studies to poor mental health and social media companies have been under fire for deliberately designing their platforms to be addictive. Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt singled out social media companies as “collectively turning a blind eye” to their impact on mental health.

According to Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s mental health director, the initiative is right to highlight concerns about the impact of social media on youth mental health: “We need to see concerted action with everyone taking responsibility, including social media giants, so the NHS is not left to pick up the pieces of a mental health epidemic in the next generation,” she said.

The initiative is similar to existing health campaigns encouraging people to temporarily give up alcohol (Dry January), animal products (Veganuary) and tobacco (Stoptober).

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