Last updated: 06.02.19

The effects of social media on children's mental health

Why is Mental health such an important issue?

Although equally important as our physical health, mental health can often go unnoticed and sometimes lead to detrimental effects on people’s day-to-day lives. A magnitude of factors can instigate change in a persons’ mental health, from stress at work, the weather, hormones, or pressures to fit into society. Mental health costs the UK more than £94 billion every year, covering social support, losses in employment costs from people who cannot work, and treatment. Therefore, this is an area that requires dedication, sensitive planning and unrivaled support from employers, family, friends and the Government alike.

Childline, a non-profit organisation dedicated to providing support for children suffering abuse and neglect, has revealed that in two years, the number of teenagers calling for mental health support has doubled. It has also announced a 5% increase in the number of counselling sessions the UK’s children’s charity Childline (run by NSPCC) has delivered to young people experiencing problems with their mental health. In this article we’re going to address recent figures revealing the effect of social media on children’s mental health, and what support can be provided to help prevent and heal mental health problems.

The Stats: Social Media and Mental Health

Recent studies have sited social media and exam pressures as contributing factors to the significant increase in mental health disorders amongst children. Children’s time spent on social media has been found to be related to less sleep, insomnia, depressive symptoms, involvement with online harassment and lower self-esteem. Findings have prompted researchers to call for tighter regulations on social media and for said platforms to promote safeguarding by taking responsibility for content and prioritising the mental health of users.

In 2017, one in eight people under 19 in England had a mental health disorder, and less than a third of those referred to mental health services received treatment within 12 months. Even though boys under 11 are more likely to have a mental health disorder than girls, numerous studies have found that teenage girls are most commonly affected by social media, with 38% of teenage girls that use social media for more than five hours a day showing signs of sever depression. A high 88% of NSPCC mental health counselling sessions were for girls in the last two years.

What effect does too much screen time have on teenagers?

Teenagers that spend more time on screens such as playing video games, watching TV, on social media and texting, are likely to be significantly unhappier than those who invest more time in non-screen activities like sport, reading books and face-to-face social interaction. The happiest teenagers are those who use digital media less than an hour a day. The aftermath of this excessive use could be the reason that one in five of children aged 11 to 19 have been cyberbullied, and one in 18 women have body dysmorphic disorder. With hundreds of social media apps at our finger tips, it’s now harder than ever for children to switch off and remove themselves from online conversation. The nature of instant gratification from posting a photo or writing a status is creating an addiction to likes and followers.

How to Provide Support

In reaction to the alarming rise in children suffering with mental health issues, The Department of Health state that its new plans will help 70,000 more children a year access specialist mental health care by 2020-21. The plans include dedicated mental health workforce for schools and teaching pupils what good mental health looks like. With the NHS reportedly spending almost £12 billion on mental health a year, Prime Minister Theresa May has made mental health a priority in recent legislation, increasing the NHS mental health budget by £2 billion. Despite this, The Government’s target to boost mental health staff numbers by 21,000 to 2020 is set to fall short by thousands.

What support is available?

So what can we do to help people suffering with mental health? There are a number of organisations, apps, and communities that provide support and safeguarding for those suffering. Southwark Council has pledged with healthcare providers and commissioners to treat 100% of children diagnosed with a mental health condition – the national target is 35%. The council states that it wouldn’t be right for them to only treat 35% of children with a broken arm, so why should only this many children receive support and care for mental health struggles. Young people in Britain are using apps and online counselling more than ever before to help manage mental health problems, and this is set to increase further in 2019. Users can receive fast, personalised advice instead of waiting for months to be seen face-to-face by a professional. Kooth is a free online counselling service which has seen users increase to 100,000 in 2018 from 65,000 in 2017. The app provides an immediacy of support which can be signed up to anonymously.

Why is Social Media important for children and teenagers?

It’s important to demonstrate that even though social media can contribute immensely to unhappiness and mental health disorders, it can also connect and support teenagers in a way that can’t be accessed in real life. For this we would recommend joining educational and inspiring groups like ‘Humans of New York’, tag campaigns such as #HereForYou to spread positivity, and use social media as a support system for peers as well as a platform to organise in-person events. Researchers have gone as far to say that social media can actually be used in a way that aids the treatment of mental health. This is largely due to the connection, communities, and peer-to-peer support promoted by social platforms.

Training is key in improving care for people struggling with mental health. To understand how you can implement changes to your mental health support, and to find out more about how you can provide mental health training for your business or organisation, take a look at our mental health online courses.