Social media having a greater mental health impact on girls, study reveals

Teenage girls are “twice as likely” as boys to experience a mental health condition as a result of social media use, a new study has revealed.

The research, published by University College London (UCL), has sparked a campaign to urge the Government to do more to recognise the risks of excessive social media use.

According to the study, 12 per cent of “light” social media users and 38 per cent of “heavy” social media users – defined as those who use apps and services for more than five hours per day – express the symptoms of severe depression.

However, when looking at males versus females, teenage girls were much more likely to use social media applications for more than three hours a day, suggesting a heightened risk of depression.

In total, a quarter of girls showed symptoms of clinical depression, as opposed to 11 per cent of boys.

Commenting on the findings, Professor Yvonne Kelly, from the UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, said: “The link between social media use and depressive symptoms was stronger for girls compared with boys. For girls, greater daily hours of social media use corresponded to a stepwise increase in depressive symptoms.

“For boys, higher depressive symptom scores were seen among those reporting three or more hours of daily social media use.”

She added that girls were also more likely to experience harassment and bullying online, increasing the risk of mental illness.

“These findings are highly relevant to current policy development on guidelines for the safe use of social media and calls on industry to more tightly regulate hours of social media use for young people,” Professor Kelly said.

“Clinical, educational and family settings are all potential points of contact where young people could be encouraged and supported to reflect not only on their social media use but also other aspects of their lives including online experiences and their sleep patterns.

“At home, families may want to reflect on when and where it’s OK to be on social media and agree on limits for time spent online. Curfews for use and the overnight removal of mobile devices from bedrooms might also be something to consider.”

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