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is social media causing depression amongst young people?

In response to a recent BBC report regarding the link between social media and mental health issues amongst young people, NCFE work experience student Kathryn Bradbeer, 17, explores the issue further.

Social media, popular, relevant and possibly dangerous, but addictive never the less. The constant bombardment of updates, invites and opportunities, has been recognised to have created intense pressure on users and also on society.

The fear of missing out (FOMO – it’s an acronym that’s crept into common usage!), especially among young people, has left many people addicted to their phones. Social media is said to have a negative effect on concentration, efficiency and productivity suggesting that young people could potentially struggle more at school and in entering the work place as a result of a lack of motivation and support available.

What’s more, many look to the school curriculum to help solve the problem, educating young people on both the opportunities and the pitfalls that come with an online presence.

With the rise of social media there has been a significant rise in poor mental health, an increase in feelings of inadequacy, anxiety and depression, due to comparison of oneself with images of physical perfection. Self-esteem is reportedly declining most among girls between the ages of 12 and 17, because concepts such as body image have become central to adolescent girls’ self-definition.  Adolescence is a time for forming views about oneself and sociocultural ideas, and therefore young people are particularly vulnerable to the unrealistic and manipulative images and messages online.  There is evidence of adolescents reporting severe mood changes because of social media use and girls as young as 10 facing body image issues because of the pictures they are bombarded with on platforms such as Instagram.

Although most social media platforms have a minimum age limit of 13, reportedly three quarters of children aged 10-12 already have a form of social media account. Many young people are unaware of the permanence of their actions online and therefore without information regarding the issue, many young people are at risk of making poor decisions that will negatively affect their future. Young people can make decisions they wouldn’t normally make in real life on social media due to the impersonal nature of the platforms and many are unaware of the hurt or offence they can cause online. The anonymity which arises as a consequence of social media acts as a motive in many cases for cyber bullying, the distance between users on social media sites also means that the bully will not necessarily be aware of the level of pain that they might be causing their victim. 

Therefore, it may be useful to educate children about the correct use of social media and also the implication that their actions online can have on their reality. Although social media can be a source of negativity, and can trigger negative emotions relating to poor mental health, Shirley Cramer, Chief executive of RSPH, identified social media as ‘A space in which we form and build relationships, shape self-identity, express ourselves and learn about the world around us.’

Social media can be extremely beneficial for individuals and society if used and applied correctly.  Social media allows individuals to express themselves and connect with other people and creates an augmented place which can help to enhance the world we live in. But it is important for society to understand that the full benefits of social media can only be reached if the negatives are controlled and kept to a minimum. Without education regarding a healthy use of social media, it is very possible that in years to come the current generation will not be so successful and optimistic. Many are becoming blinded by false images and actions online, focussing less and less on our society and reality and more and more on an unrealistic view of the world projected by social media.