Multiple sources have blamed on social media for having (or potentially having) negative impact on mental state of young people. To name few:

NPR writes

SEATTLE — The public school district in Seattle has filed a novel lawsuit against the tech giants behind TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat, seeking to hold them accountable for the mental health crisis among youth.
It blames them for worsening mental health and behavioral disorders including anxiety, depression, disordered eating and cyberbullying; making it more difficult to educate students; and forcing schools to take steps such as hiring additional mental health professionals, developing lesson plans about the effects of social media, and providing additional training to teachers.

uclahealth.org writes

Social media can distort how people view themselves, Dr. Thames explained. Sadly, many youths wrap their identity within the cloak of their standing on social media.

Unicef.org writes

If you were born after 1995 then you won’t remember life before the Internet. Being connected through smartphones and social media is now just a part of growing up for many children and adolescents. Most of them have positive experiences online, but there are risks involved, including whether the excessive use of social media can ultimately harm their mental health. Research in this area is still in its early stages, but the significance of social media in the lives of many young people is clear.

  • Is there evidence for negative impact of social media on mental health?
  • If so, to what degree does the impact vary on young developing minds?

  • There is a video from Sabine about it that mentions several papers and their quality or lack of it: youtube.com/…
    – borjab
    May 11, 2023 at 7:57
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    @Schmuddi Edited based on feedback. Second question is relevant as the sources specifically mention adolescence.
    – pinegulf
    May 11, 2023 at 8:19
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    The question is very, very broad. It suffers from similar problems to Is this food harmful?. I have focused it on youth, because that's where the claims are focussed, but getting much more specific might help. Is it only about "excessive use" (which is a loaded term: of course "excessive use" is bad, because that is what "excessive" means.)
    – Oddthinking
    May 12, 2023 at 3:46
  • @Oddthinking Agreed. However, were the question to vary from the specific claim the question would be closed as it does not address the claim itself. (Which could be meta discussion in itself.) I already had to delete parts of question as they were not direct quotes.
    – pinegulf
    May 12, 2023 at 16:31
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    Oh, agreed. We would need to find some specific claims - perhaps from the same sources. But lumping Instagram and Twitter, StackOverflow and 4Chan, Reddit and imgur in the same category, and occasional use versus obsessive use into the same category, and all mental health issues in the same category, is going to make drawing a single conclusion very difficult.
    – Oddthinking
    May 13, 2023 at 4:19

1 Answer 1


The question is too broad, so the answer is "It depends".

  • Sadagheyani, H.E. and Tatari, F. (2021), "Investigating the role of social media on mental health", Mental Health and Social Inclusion, Vol. 25 No. 1, pp. 41-51. DOI: 10.1108/MHSI-06-2020-0039

    This study was a systematic review that looked at the literature as of 2020:

    The findings showed that social media has negative and positive effects on mental health. Negative effects included anxiety, depression, loneliness, poor sleep quality, poor mental health indicators, thoughts of self-harm and suicide, increased levels of psychological distress, cyber bullying, body image dissatisfaction, fear of missing out and decreased life satisfaction. Positive effects included accessing other people’s health experiences and expert health information, managing depression, emotional support and community building, expanding and strengthening offline networks and interactions, self-expression and self-identity, establish and maintain relationships.

  • Berryman, C., Ferguson, C.J. & Negy, C. Social Media Use and Mental Health among Young Adults. Psychiatr Q 89, 307–314 (2018). DOI:10.1007/s11126-017-9535-6

    Some studies have indicated that social media use may be tied to negative mental health outcomes, including suicidality, loneliness and decreased empathy. Other studies have not found evidence for harm, or have indicated that social media use may be beneficial for some individuals.

    This particular study showed:

    social media use was not predictive of impaired mental health functioning. However, vaguebooking was predictive of suicidal ideation, suggesting this particular behavior could be a warning sign for serious issues. Overall, results from this study suggest that, with the exception of vaguebooking, concerns regarding social media use may be misplaced.

For balance, here is another study that showed that, as Facebook was rolled out in colleges, mental health declined:

  • Braghieri, Luca, Ro'ee Levy, and Alexey Makarin. 2022. "Social Media and Mental Health." American Economic Review, 112 (11): 3660-93. DOI: 10.1257/aer.20211218

    We find that the rollout of Facebook at a college had a negative impact on student mental health. It also increased the likelihood with which students reported experiencing impairments to academic performance due to poor mental health. Additional evidence on mechanisms suggests the results are due to Facebook fostering unfavorable social comparisons.

(This was a "natural experiment", and I can't see how they accounted for exposure to social media increasing people's awareness of mental health issues, the relative health of their cohort and the available resources, and thus increased reporting of mental health issues without increasing the prevalence.)

Meanwhile adolescents think it is bad for mental health:

  • Michelle O’Reilly et al, Is social media bad for mental health and wellbeing? Exploring the perspectives of adolescentsClinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, Volume 23, Issue 4 doi.org/10.1177/1359104518775154

    This 2018 study based on focus groups found:

    Thematic analysis suggested that adolescents perceived social media as a threat to mental wellbeing and three themes were identified: (1) it was believed to cause mood and anxiety disorders for some adolescents, (2) it was viewed as a platform for cyberbullying and (3) the use of social media itself was often framed as a kind of ‘addiction’.

Maybe the negatives are outweighed by the positives - using social media programmes to educate people and improve their mental health.

Does that work? Cochrane has a systematic review on the subject. Short answer: No, the evidence doesn't support it!

Mental health is a huge area. Youths and adolescents are a big group, covering a range of ages. Social media is a broad term.

There is no single answer to the question.


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