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Social media use linked to poor mental health in young people, APPG finds

A UK parliamentary report has suggested that young people who are heavy users of social media have worse mental health than lighter users of the same age.

Over a quarter of young people who spend three or more hours per day on social media have symptoms of mental illness, according to a parliamentary report.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Media and Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing said that evidence from children’s charity Barnardo’s, showed that children who did not use social media displayed less than half of the same symptoms of mental illness. 

The report ‘#NewFilters to manage the impact of social media on young people’s mental health and wellbeing’ also found that just under two-thirds (63%) of 1,479 young people (aged 14 to 24 years) consider social media to be a good source of health information. But those responding to the survey said that pressure online was linked to harmful behaviours such as body shaming and disordered eating. Just over a third of survey respondents (38%) said that social media had negatively impacted on their self-esteem.

The APPG made a number of policy recommendations in the report, including creating a Social Media Health Alliance, funded by a 0.5% levy on the profits of social media companies, to fund research and educational initiatives, and establish clearer guidance on social media for the public.

It also recommended establishing a duty of care on all social media companies with registered UK users aged 24 years and under in the form of a statutory code of conduct, to be regulated by Ofcom; and reviewing whether the “addictive” nature of social media is sufficient for official disease classification.

“For far too long social media companies have been allowed to operate in an online Wild West,” said Chris Elmore, chair of the APPG.

“And it is in this lawless landscape that our children currently work and play online. This cannot continue. As the report makes clear, now is the time for the government to take action.”

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2019.20206307

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