Social media has been linked to an increased rate of mental health problems in children and teens. A study at Johns Hopkins found that children who use social media more heavily were more likely to report issues such as loneliness, depression and anxiety, as well as aggression and antisocial behaviour.
Rocketing rates of diagnosed mental illness
This comes on the heels of rocketing mental illness diagnoses in children, with only 0.8% of 4-24 year-olds in the UK reporting a long-standing mental health condition in 1995, while in 2014 this figure had grown to 4.8%. In the USA, mental illness is a leading health problem among children, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that diagnosis of depression or anxiety in American children had increased from 5.4% in 2003 to 8.4% in 2011-2012.
While there is an ongoing scholarly debate over the potential over-diagnosis of certain childhood conditions, a broad consensus has developed over the largely unavoidable effect that social media has been having on the mental health of the young. It is now thought that ‘addiction’ to social media affects around 5% of young people. A recent study by the University of Glasgow linked the use of social media by teenagers before bed with difficulty sleeping and waking during the night. Dr Max Davie, from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said good quality sleep was vital for children and young people.
Give mind time to wind down
"We recommend that young people stay off all screens for at least an hour before bed so their brains have time to wind down.
"Lack of sleep can have a significant negative impact not only on young people's wellbeing but on their relationships with family and friends and in terms of reaching their full potential at school."
A study found that, after a long period of stability, depression, suicide-related outcomes, and suicide deaths increased among American adolescents between 2010 and 2015, especially among females. Over the same years, adolescents spent less time on non-screen activities such as in-person social interaction, print media, sports/exercise, and attending religious services, activities negatively correlated with depressive symptoms. Of half a million 8th-12thgraders (13-18 years old), found that the number of those exhibiting high levels of depressive symptoms increased by 33 per cent between 2010 and 2015. In the same period, the suicide rate for girls in that age group increased by 65%.
The rise in depressive symptoms correlates with smartphone adoption. Smartphones were introduced in 2007 and by 2015 92% of teens and young adults owned a smartphone. Social media has been shown to affect the reward centres that are over-active in teens’ brains. (https://childmind.org/report/2017-childrens-mental-health-report/smartphones-social-media/)
So, social media could be having deep-seated effects on the brains of the young. Although more research is needed, the correlation between social media and smartphone use and mental illness and suicide – especially in girls – must be a cause for concern.