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Instagram rated worst social media for young people's mental health

Instagram was ranked the worst in a survey among young people. Credit: PA

Instagram has been rated as the worst social media when it comes to the impact on young people's mental health, according to a survey.

The photo-sharing app was found to have the most negative impact on people's body image, sleep and fear of missing out on experiences had by others, warned the Royal Society for Public Health.

However, the survey of almost 1,500 people aged between 14 to 24, found Instagram was positive in terms of self-expression and self-identity.

Respondents were asked to score how each of the social media platforms they use impact upon issues such as anxiety, loneliness and community building.

The site found to have the most positive impact was YouTube, followed by Twitter.

Instagram was rated the most negatively with Facebook and Snapchat ranking third and fourth respectively.

The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) report said: "The platforms that are supposed to help young people connect with each other may actually be fuelling a mental health crisis."

To help combat the negative impact social media can have on young people the RSPH is calling for a set of recommendations to be implemented.

  • The introduction of pop-ups on sites such as Twitter and Facebook warning users about heavy usage - which the RSPH said was supported by seven in 10 people surveyed
  • Social media platforms to identify users who could be suffering from mental health problems by their posts and discreetly signpost to support.
  • Platforms to highlight when photos of people have been digitally manipulated.

Shirley Cramer CBE, chief executive of the RSPH, said: "Social media has been described as more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol, and is now so entrenched in the lives of young people that it is no longer possible to ignore it when talking about young people's mental health issues.

"It's interesting to see Instagram and Snapchat ranking as the worst for mental health and wellbeing - both platforms are very image-focused and it appears they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people.

The survey did highlight positive aspects to social media too such as self-expression and emotional support. Credit: ITV News

"As the evidence grows that there may be potential harms from heavy use of social media, and as we upgrade the status of mental health within society, it is important that we have checks and balances in place to make social media less of a wild west when it comes to young people's mental health and wellbeing."

Dr Becky Inkster, honorary research fellow at the University of Cambridge, said: "Young people sometimes feel more comfortable talking about personal issues online.

"As health professionals, we must make every attempt to understand modern youth culture expressions, lexicons, and terms to better connect with their thoughts and feelings."

Instagram Head of Policy EMEA, Michelle Napchan said: "Keeping Instagram a safe and supportive place, where people feel comfortable expressing themselves, is our top priority - particularly when it comes to young people.

"Every day people from all over the world use Instagram to share their own mental health journey and get support from the community. For those struggling with mental health issues, we want them to be able to access support on Instagram when and where they need it.

"That’s why we work in partnership with experts to give people the tools and information they need while using the app, including how to report content, get support for a friend they are worried about or directly contact an expert to ask for advice on an issue they may be struggling with.”