instagram is the worst app for your mental health

It’s official, your favourite app is making you feel terrible.

by Wendy Syfret
22 May 2017, 2:20am

In April 2017, it was reported that the app Instagram has 700 million monthly active users. Just take that in for a second. That's a lot of young people scrolling through images that can make you laugh, make you cry; build you up or tear you down. It's important to remember that a lot of work goes into images - for example some fitness, healthy lifestyle and celebrity pages - edit, filter and photoshop pics to perfection. Young people may be vulnerable to viewing these images and seeking, what can ultimately not be reached, this perfection. On the other hand, there are good things that can come from finding images that are encouraging and uplifting, we just need to find the right balance so that the lens we look through in life, isn't blurred by what we see on a phone. If you, or someone you know, is struggling with concerns like this, headspace has can help through support at one of our 99 centres around Australia. — Vikki Ryall, Head of Clinical Practice at headspace, the National Youth Mental Health Foundation.

Mental health and social media have a complex relationship: the argument over whether our connection to these platforms is positive or negative shifts weekly. Sharing your life online offers the opportunity to edit out any shadow of reality, leaving behind a sunny artificial version of reality. Anyone who has ever got stuck in an internet hole of someone else's perfect, millennial pink-hued, Acai bowl-fuelled life understands how shitty that can make you feel. But platforms like Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram also offer a lifeline to people beyond your immediate community, and allow individuals to explore emotions in less confronting ways.

Now the UK's Royal Society for Public Health have weighed in on the issue with their new study #StatusofMind. They interviewed almost 1,500 people aged between 14 and 23 about how Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube impacted their mental health. The findings revealed that Instagram was the most detrimental, especially for young women. The popular app stood apart for its ability to literally filter out any imperfections, which in turn left consumers feeling anxious, depressed, lonely and unfulfilled — or as they say online, with mad FOMO.

READ: how memes taught millennials to talk about mental health

Interestingly, considering recent conversations around censoring queer voices, YouTube came out best: they were the only platform to receive a positive rating. Although the group stressed all frequent social media use was found to leave people feeling worse off; specially, spending more than two hours a day scrolling leaves you likely to experience psychological distress.

Reflecting on these findings, the Royal Society for Public Health suggested that social media platforms follow the path of many publications and issue a disclaimer when an image has been altered. They admit it's a tricky policy to monitor across all users, but they did comment that "fashion brands, celebrities and other advertising organisations may sign up to a voluntary code of practice where the small icon is displayed on their photos to indicate an image may have been digitally enhanced or altered to significantly alter the appearance of people in it."

While the findings are a bit grim, although not totally shocking, president of the UK's Royal College of Psychiatrists Sir Simon Wessely was quick to add some context and point out that wellbeing can't be maintained by simply putting your phone on airplane mode. "I am sure that social media plays a role in unhappiness, but it has as many benefits as it does negatives...We need to teach children how to cope with all aspects of social media — good and bad — to prepare them for an increasingly digitized world. There is real danger in blaming the medium for the message." In short, scroll with care.


Text Wendy Syfret

mental health
Social Media