Instagram and Snapchat are the most detrimental social networks for young people's mental health, according to a study published on Friday by the UK's Royal Society for Public Health [RSPH] and the Young Health Movement.
The researchers conducted a survey of almost 1,500 young people aged 14-24 from across the UK and asked them to score how each of the social media platforms they use impacts upon 14 important issues related to health and wellbeing, such as anxiety, sleep and self-identity.
RSPH Chief Executive Shirley Cramer told Radio Sputnik that the study aimed to identify the pluses and minuses of social networks in order to "mitigate the negative effects and accentuate the positive."
"One of the very interesting findings is that young people recognize that there are a number of areas that are being affected in terms of mental health and wellbeing."
"One of those is sleep, and one in five young people admit to waking up in the middle of the night to check their devices and look on social media platforms. We know that sleep is really related to mental health and that young people need as much sleep as they can get."
"Another issue, [which is] why Instagram became highlighted as the most negative, is body image. Very interestingly, young people recognize that seeing these extraordinary, slightly made-up lives on Instagram with these lovely pictures, can give you anxiety and depression and feelings of missing out."
In its report, RSPH makes several recommendations. These include a pop-up warning about social network use after two hours, getting social media platforms to identify users who could be suffering from mental health problems, and getting them to highlight when photos of people have been digitally altered.
"In the UK, if health information goes out in a magazine or through the NHS or other ways, we have something called the information standard. That's how we find out that this is real expert information. There is none of that on social media platforms. So, again this is about making sure that young people are getting the right information," Cramer said.
"So, we have to do all we can to accentuate the really positive effect of community and creating contact for young people while really helping to negate some of the worst aspects of social media."
"The average weighted score for YouTube was really much higher than the other areas. The only area on YouTube that was very negative was sleep. But on other areas, YouTube scored really quite well."
Social media platforms provide a useful way of keeping in touch with other people, but users need to be aware that the images they show are the "highlights" of somebody's life, Cramer said.
"If you're a vulnerable teenager and all you see are lovely body images of beautiful teenagers, then you need to understand that this is not the real world, this is a part of somebody's life and we need to be better at explaining that and understanding the rates of anxiety that this can cause."
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