Instagram Voted Worst Social Media Site for Mental Health

By Paul Gaita 05/30/17

YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram were all ranked by their positive or negative impact in a new report.

Hand holding Iphone and navigating through homepage of Instagram application.

The impact of social media on young people has been the subject of an ever-increasing number of studies by the medical and mental health profession—many of which have decried excessive use as potentially harmful to their physical, mental and emotional well-being.

The latest such report comes from the United Kingdom, where the Royal Society for Public Health issued #StatusOfMind in conjunction with the Young Health Movement. The report examined the effects that various social media platforms had on the health and well-being of young users, and determined that Instagram was the most detrimental in terms of its impact, while YouTube was viewed as the most positive site.

To determine their findings, the researchers surveyed nearly 1,500 teens and young people between the ages of 14 to 24 from across the UK. They were asked about the social media sites they visited, and how they viewed those platforms in terms of having an impact on 14 different factors—all related to mental health and well-being—including depression, body image, self-expression and emotional support. 

Based on how the participants ranked each platform, the five most popular sites were given a net average score to determine which had the most positive or negative impact. The ranking list was as follows:

1. YouTube (voted most positive in terms of impact)

2. Twitter

3. Facebook

4. Snapchat

5. Instagram (voted most negative in terms of impact)

The report listed YouTube as the most positive, based on awareness and understanding of other people's health experiences, as well as self-expression—though the site was given a negative ranking in terms of its impact on users' sleep.

Instagram was ranked worst—though it received a positive response in regard to both self-image and self-expression. Half of the participants surveyed also reported that both Instagram and Facebook exacerbated feelings of anxiety, while Facebook was also called out by two-thirds of participants for making cyber-bullying incidents worse.

While the researchers acknowledged that further studies are required in order to determine exactly how social media impacts mental health, Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, said in a statement that it was "no longer possible to ignore [social media] when talking about young people's mental health issues," and cited both Instagram and Snapchat as "driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people."

The report also provided recommendations to both government and social media companies on how to promote more positive messages. These included a pop-up warning that informed users that they had exceeded a set level of usage on the site, an idea that was supported by 7 in 10 survey participants.

Other suggestions included the highlighting of photos that have been digitally manipulated, and identifying users who could be exhibiting mental health problems in their posts and discreetly offering them ways to seek help. Both suggestions were supported by a majority of the survey participants (7 out of 10 and four out of five, respectively).

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.