The results are in: the mental health of young people is getting much worse – and social media is to blame.
In a fascinating piece in the FT, John Burn-Murdoch pulls together the data linking the two – and it’s truly scary.
Reflecting a trend that extends across the Western world, more and more UK teenagers believe they are unlikeable, think they lack good qualities, suffer from depression, worry a lot, feel unhappy, and believe their lives are meaningless.
“Wherever you look,” Burn-Murdoch writes, “youth mental health is collapsing, and the inflection point is ominously consistent: 2010 give or take a year or two — when smartphones went from luxury to ubiquity.”
The correlation between young people’s mental health and the ubiquity of smartphones and social media has been accepted for some time. What’s still being debated, however, is the causal link between the two.
Two academics who have been laying the blame for declining mental health at the door of social media for years are Jean Twenge, and Jon Haidt. But both have faced the criticism that their work is being driven by a fashionable pushback against Big Tech.
On his latest Substack, Haidt cites the CDC’s bi-annual Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which showed that most teen girls (57%) now say that they experience persistent sadness or hopelessness (up from 36% in 2011), and 30% of teen girls now say that they have seriously considered suicide (up from 19% in 2011). Boys follow a similar if less severe trend.
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The causal link is becoming increasingly difficult to deny. As Burn-Murdoch points out, we now have a growing body of research showing that reducing time on social media improves mental health.
What can be done? Age-verification and educating children and parents may have some effect. But Burn-Murdoch isn’t optimistic: “Until someone invents the equivalent of a weight-loss drug for Instagram, the future looks ominous.”
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