Social media and student mental health: What’s the connection?
Is heavy social media use related to poor mental health in young people – or just another way of passing time and keeping connected to friends?
A new analysis suggests it’s a question worth exploring.
One in 10 Ontario students typically spends five or more hours each day posting or browsing social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. And those who use heavily are significantly more likely to report poorer mental health than those who don’t use as often, according to CAMH’s latest Population Studies eBulletin.
Information on students’ social media use was collected for the first time in the 2013 cycle of the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS) and reported in depth in the eBulletin.
Not surprisingly, 80 per cent of students reported using social media sites on a daily basis. Results are based on 10,272 responses. Some other findings:
• 19 per cent of students did not use social media at all, or not every day
• 34 per cent spent time on social media for up to an hour daily
• 36 per cent used between two and four hours daily
• Females were significantly more likely than males to be heavy users, with 15 per cent reporting more than five hours a day on social media sites
Half of the students, representing 5,478 individuals, were asked questions about their mental health.
A clear pattern emerged. Students who reported using social media for five or more hours a day were more likely to report higher levels of psychological distress, poorer self-rated mental health and lower self-esteem.
“This is just a snapshot in time, so we can’t say which came first – the poorer mental health or the high level of social media use,” says Dr. Robert Mann, Senior Scientist at CAMH and co-lead investigator of OSDUHS. “We also don’t know exactly how each measure is related to the other.”
The trend was striking as it occurred across all three measures of mental well-being. For instance, nearly half of the students who used social media for five hours a day also reported a moderate or high level of psychological distress, based on questions included from the Kessler 10-Psychological Distress Scale.
As the number of hours of social media use declined, so did the number of students reporting poorer mental health, distress or low self-esteem.
Although the current results can’t provide information about cause and effect, they do establish the groundwork for a study to examine these associations in more detail, the researchers note.
Percentage of Ontario Students in Grades 7–12 Rating Their Mental Health as “Poor” or “Fair” According to Daily Use of Social Media, 2013 OSDUHS (n=5,478)
Percentage of Ontario Students in Grades 7–12 Indicating a Moderate or High Level of Psychological Distress According to Daily Use of Social Media, 2013 OSDUHS (n=5,478)