If memory serves, being a teenager was hard enough before the advent of social media, which may be contributing to even higher levels of stress among adolescents, according to the latest data from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Ontario, Canada. The CAMH surveyed 10,426 students in grades seven to twelve last year and found the numbers experiencing “moderate to serious psychological distress” is growing, in tandem with growing social media use.
However, as always, it should be noted that correlation does not equal causation: it is entirely plausible that young people who are experiencing distress are drawn to social media for any number of reasons (rather than social media causing the distress).
The number of teens experiencing psychological distress, including symptoms of depression and anxiety, increased from 24% in 2013 to 34% in 2015, the CAMH survey found. Older teens were significantly more likely to report these kind of symptoms, with the proportion rising to 41% among students in grade twelve. The proportion of students who rated their own mental health as “fair” or “poor” increased from 11% in 2007 to 17% in 2015.
The researchers noted that the increase in psychological distress was correlated with growing social media adoption: according to the latest survey, 86% of students said they visit social media sites every day, while 16% spent more than five hours on social media daily – the latter figure up from 11% in 2013. In a related finding, 63% of students said they spend three or more hours per day on “screen time” including TV as well as computers or smartphones.
Female students reported spending more time on social media, with 22.4% using social media five or more hours per day, compared to 10.1% for male students. They were also more likely to report moderate to serious psychological distress, at 45.9% compared to 22.7% for male students.
This is just the latest in a series of studies showing correlations between social media and negative psychological outcomes in young people. Earlier this year, I wrote about a study conducted by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, which found that frequent social media use is correlated with a higher risk of eating disorders and negative body image. Respondents who spent more time on social media were over twice as likely (2.2 times) to report factors putting them at risk of eating disorders or distorted body image, when compared with respondents who spent less time. Frequency of check-ins were even more closely correlated with these risk factors, with respondents who checked in most often 2.6 times as those who checked in least often to have risk factors.