Instagram has recently been rated as the worst social media platform for impacting young people’s mental health, so how can we be safe when using social media?

Social media surrounds and consumes us on a daily basis. For young people, it is their main point of contact with others, source of news and hub of information. However, while social media certainly has its uses, it can also have a damaging impact on the mental wellbeing of young adults.

According to a recent study by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), Instagram has been rated as the worst social media platform for impacting on young people’s mental health. With roughly 90 per cent of young people using social media – more than any other age group – they are particularly vulnerable to any negative effects.

The research included surveying 1,479 people aged 14-24, asking them to score popular social media platforms on issues such as body image, bullying, loneliness, depression and anxiety. While workers at Instagram said that keeping the platform a safe and supportive place for young people was a top priority, mental health charities have urged companies to act to increase users’ safety.

What can be done about this?

In order to prevent this impact on mental health, the RSPH has argued that social media platforms should flag up heavy and intense social media use to identify users with mental health issues. However, Instagram has said it provides tools and information on how to cope with bullying and warns users before they can view certain content.

YouTube was found in the report to be the most positive impact on mental health, followed by Twitter and Facebook. Snapchat and Instagram were found to have the lowest scores. Although the RSPH acknowledges that social media can be used as a tool for good (Instagram was also rated as having a positive effect on self-expression and self-identity), it said that social media could be fuelling the UK’s mental health crisis in young people.

Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the RSPH, commented: “It is interesting to see Instagram and Snapchat ranking as the worst for mental health and well-being – both platforms are very image-focused and it appears they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people.

“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 well-being.”

How can social media platforms help?

To tackle this problem, it is essential that social media platforms make more of an effort to support young people. Public health experts have argued that this can be done by introducing a series of checks and measures, including:

  • Pop-ups that warn people if they have been using social media for a long time. This is a suggestion that was supported by 70 per cent of those surveyed.
  • Social media platforms identifying users with mental health problems and then discreetly signposting places they can get support.
  • Highlighting when photos have been digitally manipulated. An example of this could be including a small icon at the bottom of images that have been digitally altered.
  • The RSPH have also recommended that NHS England comes up with a vetting scheme for health and well-being information to help young people judge whether information is trustworthy.