The Impact of Social Media on Youth Mental Health

Current research shows that the use of social media apps such as Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube among young people has grown exponentially over the past decade. Generally, psychological wellbeing has decreased among youth in the last decade. Some research suggests that social media use may be contributing to or causing declines in mental health, while other studies have found that this may not be the case. 

Negative impacts of social media exposure may include emotional and behavioral problems. For example, one study found that teens who spent more time on screens and electronic devices reported lower psychological wellbeing than those who spent a smaller amount of time on screens. While teens are in a critical stage of development, social media use may also have a damaging effect on self-esteem and increase feelings of anxiety, depression, and loneliness. “Problematic” use can increase negative social comparisons and result in cyberbullying and addictive engagement with social media platforms. 

Teens’ use of social media and other online platforms may also have positive impacts on mental health. Social media platforms enable teens to establish a wider net of connectivity and potentially deepen positive relationships. According to a Pew Research report, 81% of teens ages 13 to 17 say social media makes them feel more connected to what’s going on in their friends’ lives, while around two-thirds say these platforms make them feel as if they have people who will support them through tough times. The same report indicates that teens say social media exposes them to greater diversity in terms of friends, differing opinions, and multiple points of view. 

Teens’ participation in social media also differs by gender and age group. Notably, teens from  communities such as the LGBTQ+ community, may particularly benefit from social support and a sense of belonging found through social media. Different ways of using social media– for example, posting publicly versus privately– may also have different effects on mental wellbeing. Finally, effects of social media exposure on teen mental health may vary across settings including culture and nationality. 

To summarize: while social media platforms may be associated with negative impacts on youth psychological wellbeing, they can also provide meaningful connection and a positive outlet for online engagement. Additionally, these platforms enable reaching out seamlessly for mental health support and help.   

Crisis Text Line is here to provide free, confidential and non-judgmental mental health support and is available via text, web chat or through WhatsApp. For those experiencing emotional distress or mental health challenges, please text HELLO to 741741 or 443-SUPPORT in WhatsApp to be connected to a live, trained volunteer Crisis Counselor or text HOLA to 741741 or 442-AYUDAME in WhatsApp for Spanish. You can also connect with us via web chat

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