About 74% of all internet users interact on social networking sites, many of whom are adolescents. Nearly one in four teens reports being online “almost constantly,” and it’s safe to say that they’re spending that time on Facebook, Snapchat, Vine, Reddit and other social media hubs. Twitter and Instagram, in particular, are popular amongst African Americans, the Pew Research Center has found.
However, despite its popularity among the younger set, social media is linked to mental health issues.
According to a new study in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, teens who use social networking sites (SNSs) for over two hours a day report a poor self-rating of mental health, high levels of psychological distress, suicidal thoughts, and an unmet need for help.
However, similar studies amongst college students have found no relationship between heavy social media use and mental health, the study authors note. They also pointed out that correlation does not necessarily mean causation.
“Use of SNSs cannot alone explain the occurrence of mental health problems. Future studies could help elucidate factors that contribute to mental health outcomes in the context of Internet use, such as contextual factors, lack of physical activity, antecedents and individual factors, cyberbullying, and so on,” wrote the authors.
To conduct the study, researchers analyzed the data from 750 students in 7th through 12th grade collected for the 2013 Ontario Student Drug Use and Mental Health Survey. Participants were asked to answer questions about their social media habits, mental health, psychological well-being, and mental health support.
The 25% who said they used social media for two hours a day were more likely to report having poor mental health, symptoms of anxiety and depression (signs of psychological distress), suicidal thoughts, and unmet mental health needs.
“It could be that teens with mental health problems are seeking out interactions as they are feeling isolated and alone,” lead author Dr. Hugues Sampasa-Kanyinga told the Huffington Post. “Or they would like to satisfy unmet needs for face-to-face mental health support.”
Although the obvious and logical solution may appear to be getting kids off of social media, researchers suggest getting more mental health resources onto social media as a more suitable alternative.
“We see social networking sites, which may be a problem for some, also being a solution,” said the Interactive Media Institute’s Dr. Brenda K. Wiederhold. “Since teens are on the sites, it is the perfect place for public health and service providers to reach out and connect with this vulnerable population and provide health promotion systems and supports.”