Opening Instagram could cause more harm than you might think.
A report from the Royal Society for Public Health in the UK (RSPH) found that the social media photo app is the most harmful app for young people’s mental health.
The report looked at how social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and Snapchat made people feel. They assessed people ages 14 to 24 on how social media made them feel in both a positive and a negative way.
YouTube was considered the most positive app, while Instagram and Snapchat were deemed the most detrimental to young people’s mental health and wellbeing. Social media is more than just a world of apps, said Shirley Cramer, RSPH’s chief executive.
“Social media has become a space in which we form and build relationships, shape self-identity, express ourselves, and learn about the world around us; it is intrinsically linked to mental health,” Cramer said.
Participants of the report answered questions about each social media platform. They were asked whether they experienced feelings of anxiety, depression or loneliness while using the apps.
The report listed five negative effects that come from social media, including anxiety and depression, poor sleep, body image issues, cyberbullying and the fear of missing out (FoMO). Social media use has been linked to increased rates of anxiety, depression and poor sleep.
Ninety one percent of 16 to 24 year olds use the internet for social networking, and the rates of anxiety and depression in young people have risen 70 percent in the past 25 years. One anonymous participant of the 20- to 24-year-old age range said Instagram affects body image.
“Instagram easily makes girls and women feel as if their bodies aren’t good enough as people add filters and edit their pictures in order for them to look ‘perfect’,” the participant said.
A survey conducted by Bullying UK found that 91 percent of young people who reported cyberbullying said no action was ever taken to ensure their safety. Many who participated in the report said FoMO causes them distress in the form of anxiety and feelings of inadequacy.
“During my fourth year exams (when I was 16) I was put under the pressure due to the fact I was under the impression I’d be missing out if I switched off from social media,” an anonymous participant of the 17 to 19 age range said. “Therefore, I could not fight my urge and focus properly on studying due to my worry.”
How the Apps Scored
The report found positive ways social media affects people’s health as well. Access to other people’s health experiences and expert health information; emotional support and community building; self-expression and self-identity; and making, maintaining and building relationships were all considered positive effects.
Each social media platform was studied for both positive and negative effects. YouTube scored high with the positive effects, but also scored high for poor sleep.
Twitter scored high for poor sleep as well as self-expression and self-identity. It had higher rates of community building but saw bullying and FoMO as issues as well.
Facebook scored high for awareness, emotional support, community building and self-expression. It saw high scores for poor sleep, bullying and FoMO.
Snapchat had high positive scores for self-expression, but also had high scores for poor sleep, bullying, FoMO and body image issues. Instagram saw high scores for body image, bullying, FoMO, poor sleep and anxiety. Its positive scores were for self-expression and self-identity.
The RSPH said it calls for a handful of measures to be taken to improve social media experiences, including a pop-up for a heavy usage warning on social media. The organization recommended highlighting when photos have been digitally manipulated, as well as teaching safe social media use in schools among other measures.
Tori Linville is a freelance writer and editor from Clarksville, Tennessee. When she isn’t writing or teaching, she’s faithfully watching her alma mater, the University of Alabama, dominate the football field.