Instagram has been named the worst social media app in regards to mental health.
In a study by the Royal Society for Public Health, called #StatusofMind, Instagram was noted with causing depression, anxiety and even sleeping issues for its users.
Ranking out the top five in order were YouTube, the most positive; Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and finally, Instagram.
Matt Keracher, senior policy and communications executive for the Royal Society of Public Health, authored the #StatusofMind report. He discussed how these findings are not only important in the UK, but internationally.
“Our report has hit a bit of a nerve all over the world,” Keracher said. “It’s one of those issues that goes across borders, and an issue that’s not going away. There has been a real spike in mental health issues since the creation of mobile phones, but just now is mental health getting the same kind of recognition as physical health.”
According to the study, the need to be able to check social media for people ages 14 to 24 is more addicting than cigarettes or alcohol. Anxiety and depression rates in young people have gone up 70 percent in 25 years.
In regards to body image, #StatusofMind points out just how much young women are affected by social networks, with as many as nine of 10 young girls saying they are unhappy with their body. When young women log onto their social media, even for a short period of time, their body image issues are heightened compared to non-users. This time spent on social media has been shown to influence the feeling of needing to change their appearance, simply from viewing other users’ photos.
“There is a very large gender split in how young men and women reported in this study,” Keracher said, “Across the board, women reported that social media, especially Instagram, affected them much more harshly than it did men. This social media pressure adds to the already ingrained idea in their mind about how their body should look. Although young girls know scrolling through pictures for hours and hours makes them feel bad, seeing notifications on social media actually releases endorphins in their minds. It is doing something chemically to our body, similar to a drug.”
In a study by UCLA’s Brain Mapping Center, an fMRI was conducted on over 30 teens, and showed how active certain parts of their brain were when they received a ‘like’ on a photo, and the brain’s reaction was related to the feeling of winning money or seeing loved ones.
With nearly 500,000 followers on Instagram, MSU grad and fitness professional Cristina Capron knows the ability she has to impact others. What started as a personal journey to a healthier lifestyle both physically and mentally, has turned into a career where Capron utilizes social media daily to communicate with her followers.
“I think it’s important for girls to know that I have cellulite, I eat pizza, ice cream and other sweets a lot, I don’t go to the gym and kill myself on a cardio machine everyday, and I am still able to reach my goals and have fun doing it,” said Capron. “I used to be super stressed out if anyone saw me in a bikini and I wasn’t super lean, but I think it’s more important for me to embrace my body when my body fat is higher so that other girls can do the same. Healthy looks different on everyone.”
The Royal Society for Public Health listed in their study points of action, one being that proper social media use should be taught in schools as part of mental health education. Keracher discussed how Parliament in the UK has begun working with social media developers in an effort to implement safe social media usage programs in schools. Another idea by the Royal Society for Public Health is that social media networks, like Instagram, should create a way to highlight when users’ photos have been manipulated, such as through other apps that can edit their face or body.
MSU sophomore Brooke Rosa has gained a large following on Instagram in recent years, and believes users would be very apprehensive to the idea of Instagram creating this type of disclaimer.
“Honestly, I use Perfect365 which is an app that allows you to smooth your face or whiten your teeth, and I do it because let’s be honest when the flash is on, my skin does not look that great,” Rosa said. “I think social media has such a huge influence on women and girls to be a certain image without any flaws. Which is so unrealistic. However, I feel like a lot of girls are more worried about their image and looks rather than just being a good person so they go to crazy extents to modify or change themselves.”
The Royal Society for Public Health also found in their study that social media gives users a platform to express themselves, something that is very useful in branding and marketing efforts. Social media also helps users maintain relationships with people they have met.
“One of our most important factors in our call of action is more research. The evidence is there, but it’s quite new due to social media only being around for 10 years,” said Keracher. “The long term effects haven’t been discovered yet, so it’s imperative that we continue much more research, not just in the UK, but in all countries where social media is only continuing to get bigger.”