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Frequent social media use linked to mental health issues for teens

According to a new study from Johns Hopkins University, teenagers who spend more than three hours a day on social media have an increased risk of mental health issues. The most frequent Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter users were more likely to report internalizing problems, such as feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression.

At the same time, this group of adolescents was also found to have more externalizing problems, such as aggressive and antisocial behavior or a higher likelihood of bullying others. 

The researchers said that the findings are concerning, but they also indicate that warning signs of mental health issues could be detected early by tracking how much time high schoolers are spending online.

“Social media use may be a risk factor for mental health problems in adolescents,” wrote the study authors. “However, few longitudinal studies have investigated this association, and none have quantified the proportion of mental health problems among adolescents attributable to social media use.”

Almost every teenager in the United States is now accessing social media on a frequent basis. In 2018, a study from the Pew Research Center revealed that 97 percent of teens are using at least one of the seven most popular social media platforms including Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. 

The Pew Research Center also found that 95 percent of American teens have access to a smartphone, and nearly half of teenagers reported that they were online “almost constantly.”

The current study was focused on 6,595 American teens between the ages of 12 and 15. The teenagers were asked how much time they spent engaged on social media on a typical day: up to 30 minutes, more than 30 minutes, up to three hours, more than three hours, up to six hours, or more than six hours. 

To assess mental health, the experts used a screener called GAIN-SS that identifies behavioral health issues and the severity of the associated symptoms.

The study revealed that using social media for more than three hours per day was linked to “increased odds of reporting high levels of internalizing and comorbid internalizing and externalizing problems, even after adjusting for history of mental health problems.”

“Future research should determine whether setting limits on daily social media use, increasing media literacy, and redesigning social media platforms are effective means of reducing the burden of mental health problems in this population,” concluded the researchers.

The study is published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

Image Credit: Shutterstock/carballo

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