There is growing concern about the potential relationship between social media use and mental health and prosperity in people. In a new study, scientists explored associations between the frequency of social media use and later mental health and wellbeing in adolescents, particularly in girls.
They found that frequent, heavy social media use can disrupt activities which promote positive mental health in girls. The study conducted by Imperial College London and University College London- observed thousands of teenagers. The research suggests, particularly in girls- harms may be due to increased exposure to cyberbullying, loss of sleep, or reduced physical activity.
Scientists noted, “The impact on boys’ mental health appears to mainly be due to other mechanisms, not revealed by this study. The efforts should be made to reduce young people’s exposure to harmful content on social media, and combat the impact it has on healthy activities such as sleep and exercise.”
Frequent, heavy social media use can disrupt activities which promote positive mental health in girls, new research suggests.
The findings come from the first comprehensive observational study into how very frequent use of platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and WhatsApp may harm the mental health of young people.
The research, led by Imperial College London and University College London, and looked at thousands of teenagers, found that in girls, harms may be due to increased exposure to cyberbullying, loss of sleep or reduced physical activity.
However, the researchers say that the impact on boys’ mental health appears to mainly be due to other mechanisms, not revealed by this study.
The researchers suggest that efforts should be made to reduce young people’s exposure to harmful content on social media and combat the impact it has on healthy activities such as sleep and exercise.
Professor Russell Viner, from the University College London, who led the research, explained: “Our results suggest that social media itself doesn’t cause harm, but that frequent use may disrupt activities that have a positive impact on mental health such as sleeping and exercising, while increasing exposure of young people to harmful content, particularly the negative experience of cyber-bullying.”
Dr. Dasha Nicholls, from the Department of Brain Sciences and co-author of the study, said: “The clear sex differences we discovered could be attributed to girls accessing social media more frequently than boys, or to the fact that girls had higher levels of anxiety to begin with. Cyberbullying may be more prevalent among girls, or it may be more closely associated with stress in girls than in boys.”
“However, as other reports have also found clear sex differences, the results of our study make it all the more important to undertake further detailed studies of the mechanisms of social media effects by gender.”
The study observed 10,000 adolescents aged 13-16 years in from 1000 schools in England, as they progressed from Year 9 in 2013 (13 to 14-year-olds) to Year 11 in 2015 (15 to 16-year-olds).
At all three time points, young people announced the recurrence with which they got to or checked social media.
Extreme social media use was characterized in the investigation as utilizing social networks, texting or photograph sharing services, for example, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and WhatsApp multiple (at least three) times day by day.
The creators note that confinement of the survey data is that it didn’t capture how much time the teenagers spent utilizing social media, just how frequently they checked or accessed it.
In the second year of the study, teenagers completed questionnaires and were asked about their experiences of cyberbullying, sleep and physical activity, and in the final year, completed questionnaires about their life satisfaction, happiness, and anxiety.
In 2013, of 13,000 children interviewed, 43% of boys and 51% of girls used social media multiple times a day. By 2014, this had increased to 51% and 68% respectively. In 2015, 69% of boys and 75% of girls used social media multiple times a day.
In both sexes, widespread social media use was associated with more significant psychological distress. In girls, the more often they accessed or checked social media, the higher their psychological distress – in 2014, 28% of girls who very frequently used social media reported psychological distress on the general health questionnaire, compared with 20% of those using it weekly or less. However, this effect was not as apparent in boys.
The 2015 overviews uncovered that persistent, frequent social media use in earlier years anticipated lower prosperity in girls, with girls who routinely used social media in all respects now and again revealing lower life satisfaction and happiness and anxiety in 2015. Conversely, no critical affiliations were recognized by the survey in boys.
The creators found that practically the majority of the impact on young girls’ wellbeing in 2015 was down to cyberbullying, diminished sleep, and reduced physical activity. They likewise found that almost 60% of the effect on psychological distress in girls in 2014 could be accounted for by their sleep being disrupted and by greater exposure to cyber-bullying. Reduced physical activity also played a lesser role.
Conversely, cyberbullying, sleep, and physical activity seemed to clarify just 12% of the impact of widespread social media use on psychological distress in boys. These findings suggest that there are other mechanisms behind the effects of social media on boys’ mental health.
Scientists noted, “these influences are likely to be indirect, as they are for girls, rather than due to social media exposure, but further research is needed to reveal what these indirect influences might be.”
The study is published today in the journal The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.