Teen Mental Health Survey Links Social Media Use with Distress


A new study has found that the use of social media correlates with “poor psychological functioning” among school-age children and adolescents.

The study measured the time spent on social media sites (including Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and Instagram) against the need for mental health support and self-rated psychological health, distress, and suicidal ideation. The daily use of social media for more than two hours was associated with an unmet need for mental health support, poor self-rating of mental health, high stress levels, and thoughts of suicide.

The researchers don’t imply that social media exposure causes these traits; in fact, they note that social media is often used to reach out to others and cope with negative feelings, though sedentary habits do feed into depression. Rather, they suggest that social media can increase the availability of mental health support providers and information to help reach troubled teenagers.

According to the report:

Youth with mental health problems may be frequently using SNSs [Social Networking Sites] to seek interaction and support. The present results showed that more than a quarter of students reported an unmet need for mental health support… Mental health issues are usually stigmatizing and embarrassing for youth, thus leading to less intention to seek help. Youth are often concerned about being seen as “mental” by their friends and others. Thus, they may be turning to SNSs to seek interaction and support, as they do not know where else to turn.

25.2% of the surveyed students used social media for more than 2 hours every day; 54.3% used sites for 2 or fewer hours, and 20.5% reported that they’re on social media infrequently or never. Girls used social media more often than boys, and older students used the sites more often than younger students.

The 753 students surveyed attended grades 7-12 in Ottawa, Canada, and the information was gleaned from the 2013 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey. In their conclusion, the researchers addressed how Ottawa is dealing with youth mental health issues:

Providing mental health training to parents and teachers may also help identify symptoms or changes in behavior related to psychological distress or suicide among children and adolescents. For example, Ottawa Public Health has recently launched an innovative public health social media marketing campaign called “have THAT talk,” an education video series designed to encourage parents to incorporate mental health and/or suicide prevention into their conversations with their children/teens.

The survey questions that were used by the study included:

  • How would you rate your mental or emotional health?
  • In the last 12 months, was there a time when you wanted to talk to someone about a mental health or emotional problem you had, but you did not know where to turn?
  • During the last 12 months, did you ever seriously consider attempting suicide?

The survey also included the Kessler Psychological Distress scale.

The paper, entitled “Frequent Use of Social Networking Sites Is Associated with Poor Psychological Functioning Among Children and Adolescents,” was published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking by Hugues Sampasa-Kanyinga and Rosamund F. Lewis.

07 28, 2015
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