The British Mental Health Foundation recently reported that around 25% of British adults have been diagnosed at some point in time with a psychiatric disorder, costing the economy an estimated 4.5% of GDP annually. Such illnesses have many causes, but a growing body of research demonstrates that in young people they are linked with heavy consumption of social media.
A recent survey found that individuals aged between 14-24 believe that Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat & Twitter have detrimental effects on their wellbeing. On average, they reported that these social networks gave them extra scope for self-expression & community building, but they also said that the platforms exacerbated anxiety & depression, deprived them of sleep, exposed them to bullying & created worries about their body image & “FOMO” (“fear of missing out”). Academic studies have found that these problems tend to be particularly severe among frequent users.
Sean Parker, Facebook’s founding president, has admitted that the product works by “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology”. Facebook triggers the same impulsive part of the brain as gambling and substance abuse. An increase in Facebook activity has been reported to potentially be associated with a future decrease in reported mental health.
An obvious solution to the problem is to cut down on screen time or at least focus more on social networking, such as FaceTime, as actual conversations are hard to beat.