Social media linked to mental distress and ‘suicidality’ in teenagers

Mental-health issues have risen among teenagers alongside an increase in social media use. (Getty)

Social media may be linked to mental distress and ‘suicidality’ in teenagers, research suggests.

The number of young people being treated for mental-health conditions has “paralleled a steep rise” in the use of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Read more: ‘Cries for help’ on Twitter linked to spike in mental-health hospitalisations

Medical records reveal the number of teenagers reporting “moderate to severe mental distress” in Ontario went from 24% in 2013 to 39% just four years later.

This is correlated with a marked increase in social media use, with 70% of adolescents in the US logging on multiple times a day, up from a third in 2012.

After reviewing a range of studies, scientists from The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto worry social media may “affect an adolescent’s sense of self”.

Mental health is a bigger conversation today than ever before.

One in 10 schoolchildren in the UK has a “diagnosable mental-health condition”.

In the US, one in five adolescents have had a “serious mental-health disorder at some point”.

The UK charity Mind recognises social media can leave people feeling lonely, anxious and overwhelmed.

Read more: Why talking is so important for our mental health

Studies have reportedly shown users become envious after logging on, assuming others are better off than themselves.

Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO), “a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent”, has been linked to Facebook.

The site has also been associated with body dysmorphia and eating disorders.

One study found female participants report a “negative mood” after browsing their Facebook account for just 10 minutes.

Some also claimed to want to change the appearance of their hair, skin or face after spending time on the site.

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are all available on our phones. (Getty)

Bullying can also be rife on social media, with “arm’s length interactions” making “negative commenting easy and more frequent”.

Suicide plans and attempts have been found to be more common among victims of cyberbullying.

While experts debate whether “smartphone addiction” exists, studies have shown those “glued” to their devices are more likely to self harm or exhibit suicidal behaviour.

This may come down to them being more exposed to posts that “romanticise” or “normalise” self harm.

People who spend more than a few hours a week on their phone have also been found to have reduced happiness levels, life satisfaction and self-esteem than those who dedicate time to in-person interactions or exercise.

Read more: The pursuit of happiness may cause depression

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests online relationships are “part of typical adolescent development”.

Among today’s teenagers, who have barely experienced a world without social media, these interactions may be the “norm”.

“Physicians, teachers and families need to work together with youth to decrease possible harmful effects of smartphones and social media on their relationships, sense of self, sleep, academic performance, and emotional well-being,” said lead author Dr Elia Abi-Jaoude.

For confidential emotional support at times of distress, contact The Samaritans at any time by calling 116 123 or emailing