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Social media and the risks to our mental health

Social media and its impact on mental health is a topic that we’ve covered before on our blog.

The link between the two is – in our opinion – beyond question.

On this, not everyone is in agreement.

Indeed, certain studies have concluded that time spent on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram does not have a negative effect on children and teenagers.

Yet despite such reports and their findings, our conviction here remains intact.

That being the case, we’re pleased to endorse the latest research, carried out in the United States, that has suggested that ‘teenagers who spend more than three hours a day on social media may double the risk of mental health problems’ (Daily Telegraph, September 11, 2019).

Carried out at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland, researchers studied a large sample of more than 6,000 young people aged between 12 and 15.

Their findings?

That those who spent the longest using social media were the likeliest to report issues such as depression, loneliness and anxiety, as well as increased aggression and anti-social behaviour.

Here at CPUK, this comes as no great surprise.

Yet in adding to the mounting evidence that social media use and mental health issues are intertwined, it’s another important exhibit that adds even more weight to our case.

Just over 12 months ago, we wrote about research published in the journal Psychological Medicine that discovered that the number of children and young people reporting a ‘long-standing mental health condition’ had soared amongst a generation brought up with the internet.

Prior to this – as far back as 2014 – we discussed a ‘hidden epidemic’, based upon a Commons Health Select Committee report, that noted that ‘EVERY hour adolescents spend online threatens to damage their emotional state’.

Our conviction – that time spent online and using social media does have a negative effect on children and teenagers – is based in part, upon clinical experience, and the cases presented to us here at CPUK.

Yet it is more than that. Beyond what we see with our own eyes are an ever growing number of respected and legitimate articles, studies and publications – all reaching the same conclusion, and all backing up our experience.

That there is a link. That social media isn’t healthy. That mental health can suffer and that all the issues noted above (depression, anxiety, loneliness, aggression and behavioural problems – as well as self-harm, eating disorders, body image troubles and more) are becoming more and more prevalent as technology becomes more and more pervasive.

The latest research, published in the journal JAMA Psychology, goes further than previous studies, factoring in mental health difficulties experienced by those in question during a 12-month period prior to being asked about their social media use.

“A major strength of this study . . .  is that the researchers took into account mental health problems the young people already had a year prior to the measurement of social media use,’ Dr Rina Dutta, senior clinical lecturer at King’s College London, told The Telegraph.‘This largely overcomes the ‘what came first – mental health problem or high social media use?’ question.” 

In presenting findings that we believe are highly significant, Kira Riehm, the lead author, said “Many existing studies have found a link between digital or social use and adolescent health, but few look at this association across time. We cannot conclude that social media causes mental health problems, but we do think that less time on social media may be better for teens’ health.”

This last line is, for us, the main takeaway.

Because social media is here to stay. Because young people are going to use it. Because it can lead to mental health issues. Because it can be managed, with a little common sense and some proper ground rules, safeguards and limits.

Does YOUR child spend time online?

Concerned that time spent on social media and mental health problems are linked?

Not sure how to access help and support, or where to turn?

Please take the above into account, see previous posts on our blog for further discussion, and do contact us if this is something you wish to talk about further.

Social media does have a negative impact on children and teenagers…

The less time spent online the better.

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