Teens Love Instagram, But Is It Good for Their Mental Health?

  • 5/17/2017
  • by Kevin P. Caputo, M.D.
  • Anxiety

While you may have never even seen the app, virtually every teen you know is on Instagram. According to The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 76 percent of teens aged 13-17 have an account. Since its release in 2010, the photo-sharing social media platform has garnered over 700 million total users and has become more popular among teens than Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat.

What makes Instagram so attractive to today’s teenagers?  It’s a portal for self-expression, a way to create a unique identity and share it with the world. It’s also an easy way for teens to make and maintain relationships while feeling part of a larger community.

But a recent study revealed just how harmful Instagram can actually be.

According to research by the UK’s Royal Society for Public Health, Instagram is the worst social media platform for mental health. In a survey administered to almost 1,500 teens and young adults aged 14-24, researchers found that the photo-sharing application is associated with high levels of anxiety, depression, bullying, and a "fear of missing out" (often referred to as FOMO).  It’s can also cause poor sleep habits and a negative body image.

Instagram users are constantly being inundated with images of people with the so-called perfect body. The site reinforces unrealistic beauty expectations, even though oftentimes the pictures are heavily edited.

And it isn’t just celebrities or models doing the editing. Any user can download smartphone applications to fix a blemish, whiten their teeth, change their eye color, or even make themselves look skinnier. What’s real and what’s not is becoming increasingly harder to detect.

In addition to a negative self-image, FOMO seems to be playing a key role in higher levels of depression and anxiety in teens as well. The study suggests that Instagram promotes a "compare and despair" attitude – that is, teen users are seeing other people lead seemingly perfect lives filled with adventure or excitement and feel left out as a result.

The Royal Society for Public Health is calling for changes to be made to the social platform to combat these negative effects, including a pop-up usage warning and a disclaimer when photos have been manipulated. Until then, if your teen is using Instagram, you should monitor their behavior and be aware of signs of depression.

Withdrawal from friends and family, sudden loss of interest, lack of energy and motivation, poor self-esteem, and constant anger or sadness are all key indicators of depression.

If you think a loved one may be depressed, it’s important to get them the help they need.