Last updated: 18.06.24

The Impact of Social Media on Young People’s Mental Health


Today, social media has become an integral part of daily life, particularly for children and teenagers. Platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat encourage connection and self-expression, allowing young people to find a safe space to be themselves. However, there is concern about the impact of social media on children’s mental health.

As children spend more time online they become vulnerable to issues like cyberbullying, low self-esteem and unhealthy amounts of screen time. This is thought to correlate with a rise in mental health problems in young people in recent years. 

In this article we’re going to address recent figures revealing the effects of social media on children’s mental health, and what support can be provided to help prevent and treat mental health problems. We also compare the negative and positive effects that social media can have on young people to highlight the complexity of this issue. 

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 person’s mental health, from stress at work, the weather, hormones, or pressures to fit into society. 

Mental health costs the UK more than £300 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 unrivalled 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. Likewise, The Children’s Society has noted that 1 in 6 children have a mental health problem and young people are 50% more likely to develop mental health issues than they were 3 years ago. 

These striking statistics suggest that there is an increase in mental health problems in young people, which is very concerning. There are a multitude of factors that could explain this uptick in children's mental health, but the most significant is the impact of social media. 

The Stats: Social Media and Mental Health

Recent studies have cited social media and exam pressures as contributing factors to the significant increase in mental health disorders among 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. These 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 2024, more than 1 in 7 adults say their mental health is bad or the worst it has ever been, which is a frightening statistic. 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 and express more symptoms of depression compared to their male counterparts. 

Another important statistic reveals that young people (16-24) are less likely to receive mental health treatment than any other age group. This is worrying as we have seen a stark rise in mental health issues in young people in recent years. As such, understanding children’s mental health and the impact of social media is more critical than ever.

What effect does too much screen time have on teenagers?

Teenagers who 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 sports, reading books and face-to-face social interaction. The happiest teenagers are those who use digital media for less than an hour a day

The aftermath of this excessive use could be the reason that one in five children aged 11 to 19 have been cyberbullied, and one in 18 women has body dysmorphic disorder. With hundreds of social media apps at our fingertips, 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

These statistics paint an alarming picture for the future of young people’s mental health, but education and understanding can be some of the best ways to provide support. Our 5 steps to good mental health and wellbeing guide and our article about safeguarding children with mental health issues are great places to start. Some other examples of how you can support young people dealing with mental health are:

  • Creating a safe environment where they can openly communicate.
  • Actively listening and validating their feelings.
  • Supporting healthy habits like exercise, good diet and better sleep hygiene. 
  • Helping them identify their support network.
  • Modelling healthy behaviours to set an example.
  • Promoting mental health awareness in learning environments and at home.

What Support is Available?

So what can we do to help people suffering from mental health problems? Fortunately, there are a number of organisations, apps, and communities that provide support and safeguarding for those suffering. 

Government Support for Mental Health

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? 

Similarly, in 2022 the UK government announced that it would provide £10 million to improve mental health training in schools and colleges. The government is also aiming to expand access to early mental health support for young people increasing the number of Mental Health Support Teams available in school environments. This aims to offer support for common mental wellbeing issues that affect young people such as anxiety and depression.

Online Counselling for Young People

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 years to come. It’s not hard to see why; 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 exponentially since 2017. The app provides an immediacy of support which can be signed up to anonymously, giving users access to confidential counselling, peer support and self help tools. It is aimed specifically at helping children and young people with their mental health and can be a vital resource.

Similarly, Headspace is a mindfulness app that can help young people manage their emotions and engage in relaxation techniques. There is a vast library of guided meditations, sleep aids and courses that provide immediate support for young people struggling with mental health disorders. 

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. While young people may feel overwhelming social media pressure, it also allows them to keep in touch with their loved ones and find online creators that they enjoy.

Mental health and social media have a complex relationship, below we explore the positive and negative effects that social media can have on young people. 

Positive Effects of Social Media on Mental Health

One of the biggest benefits of social media when it comes to mental health is its ability to provide support and connection for young people. Social media offers a sense of community and can help children feel less isolated. 

Similarly, social media also allows young people to access information and resources that can help with mental health. There are a variety of mental health charities and online communities that can provide children with useful advice and coping strategies that will help them manage their mental health. 

Lastly, social media gives young people a chance to explore their identity and express themselves creatively. This can be hugely beneficial for self-esteem and mental well-being, suggesting that there can be a positive impact of social media on young people. 

Negative Effects of Social Media on Mental Health

It’s no secret that there are dangers of social media for youth, as without safeguarding and proper security they can be faced with distressing content and are vulnerable to cyberbullying. Constant exposure to highly curated content online can lead to unhealthy comparisons, which can affect the self-esteem of young people. 

While social media can connect young people and create a sense of belonging, it can also create a toxic environment via cyberbullying. Studies have shown that 1 in 6 children have been bullied online. This can have severe effects on the mental health of young people and lead to anxiety and depression. 

It is also worth noting that social media can cause sleep disruption, which is known to affect mental well-being. Lack of sleep can cause a variety of changes in mental health, such as feelings of anxiety, irritability, and inability to concentrate. In young people, excessive use of social media can lead to addiction which can disrupt sleep and contribute to poor mental health.

FAQs about Children’s Mental Health and Social Media

Is social media bad for mental health?

The relationship between mental health and social media is very nuanced, as research suggests it can have both a positive and negative effect on children’s mental health. Factors such as usage patterns and the type of content children are consuming can lead to the development of mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. However, it can also give young people the opportunity to explore their interests and connect with their peers which can vastly improve mental health. 

Why do children struggle with mental health?

There are several reasons why children struggle with mental health and they can be different for each individual. Some children may develop mental health issues as a result of their home or school environment, likewise, bullying and social pressures can have a massive impact on a child’s mental state. Children’s mental health can also be affected by biological factors or exposure to trauma, which can be more complicated to treat effectively.

How to reduce the negative impact of social media on mental health?

Thankfully there are a range of ways that adults can mitigate the negative impacts of social media on young people. One of the best ways is to inform and educate children about the reality of social media and the possible dangers of it. Likewise, encouraging healthy usage habits and promoting offline activities can help ensure a well-rounded lifestyle for young people. 


There is a lot to consider when it comes to the mental health of young people and social media. With rising rates of mental health disorders in young people and the growing influence of social media, it is more important than ever to be aware of the impact that social media can have on children’s well-being. 

Social media pressure is shown to have negative effects on young people, impacting their self confidence, sleep patterns and exposing them to cyberbullying. However, it can also give young people a sense of connection and creativity, which are proven to boost mood. Even so, understanding what support is available and the impacts that social media can have on mental health are vital to protecting the emotional health of today's youth. 

At Virtual College, we believe that training is the key to improving care for people struggling with mental health. To understand how you can implement changes to your mental health support, take a look at our online mental health courses. Alternatively, contact us now to find out more about how you can provide mental health training for your business or organisation.