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Social Media and Mental Health Effects on Teenagers

Michelle Arendas

Kent State University


Social Media and Mental Health Effects on Teenagers

There is a stigma associated not only with mental health, but also with social

media’s involvement in its occurrence. Tragic headlines telling stories the suicides of

young people due to online bullying or relationships seem almost commonplace in

today’s news, but are they telling the whole story? Teenagers or adolescents, for the

purpose of this research assignment are to be considered youths age 13 to 21. Conflicting

presumptions about online influence has led to misconceptions on the effects of social

media and the impact that it has on the mental health of teenagers.

Mental health has begun to enter the conversation in this highly digital era as

there are many researchers debating the impact this new technological world has on

teen’s wellbeing. The National Union of Students reported in their 2017 Further

Education and Mental Health publication that, “In the past 25 years, rates of depression

and anxiety amongst teenagers have increased by 70%” (National Union of Students,

2017). For 16 to 24 year old girls this rise can be seen by an increase of reports of

depression and anxiety by 5% in just seven years. This increase in depression and anxiety

has led to other problematic health behaviors, like a response in the number of

adolescents age 13 to 16 visiting care facilities and doctors due to self-harm. The number

of visits in the UK rose nearly 70% between 2011 and 2014 (Wilson, 2017). Wilson also

found that there has been an increase in bullying since the dawn of an Internet era, but

there were still more face-to-face bullying rather than attacks via the Internet, showing

that strain on mental health from bullying is not exclusive to social network use (Wilson,


So with the increasing widespread presence of mental health issues and disorders

among young adults, is social media to blame? There is well-studied evidence that does

prove that online relationships, like that formed through a social network site, tend to be

weaker connections than those formed in person. A journal published by Elsevier Science

in argues that these weaker online relationships lead to an increased risk for teens to

experience depression or social isolation. Additionally, they also took note that for female

teens, even simply having a social network account may cause a decrease in

psychological wellbeing. (Best, Manktelow, & Taylor, 2014). Lager, a psychologist

states, “I see teens with anxiety and depression that use the, Internet to reach out for help

and look for social support. It becomes. a problem when they use it excessively as a way

to disconnect from their feelings and escape their problems.” (Kaur, Vig, 2016). Though

the internet can be a source for help and support, some online interaction has taken a turn,

with consideration that bullying, shaming, and threats through the Internet are considered

“the norm” and expected to appear on social media cites. Trolling, a common incident

where users intentionally post content to upset or provoke another user is a common

negative online behavior. Of teenagers who had been trolled in the past, 28% reported

that it had an affect on their mental health” (National Union of Students, 2017).

These negative impacts seem to carry a heavy weight on the mental strain of

teenagers, but there are other results as well. There is a lot of positive related data

reported by the Elsevier Science journal as well. Depending upon the frequency of online

use, social networks have been shown to harbor a sense of belonging, which in turn can

affect their sense of wellbeing. Continuing on this concept, the more direct emotional

support a user receives through social networks, it can lead to an increase in self-

disclosure. This partnered with the anonymity of online profiles and removing the

presence of verbal barriers, can show an increase in teenagers engaging in help seeking.

(Best, et al., 2014). In a study done exclusively on the Spanish social network site Tuenti,

there is extensive data on positive effects from the website. Most notably, the study states

that, “Contrary to some previous research pointing to a detrimental effect of SNS use on

mental health and psychological wellbeing, the findings of this study are in line with

those of a number of authors who suggest that SNS use may on the whole be positive for

users, including most teenagers.” (Apaolaza, Hartmann, Medina, Barrutia, & Echebarria,

2013). This shows that contrary to what has been reported previously, there is a standing

portion of evidence that social network use can be beneficial. Also, the findings on the

Tuenti study showed the adolescents using the site actively had a higher probability of

feeling connectedness, had potential for greater self esteem, and lower levels of

loneliness, overall relating to an increase in wellbeing for the teens. (Apaolaza, et al.,


There is a considerable amount of evidence which points to social networking

sites as an overall positive developmental tool in the lives of teenagers. As the digital

landscape is constantly growing and changing, so will the research about its long-term

effects. Online bulling and other digitally driven issues are concepts that were unthought-

of in pervious decades, but the new world of social media has made it incredibly

commonplace. In looking at the information we have today, there is clear indication that

social network sites give adolescents a place to connect to form a community, which

leads to an increase in their sense of belonging and feeling connected. This, partnered

with their ability to communicate more freely about their struggles due to anonymity and

sense of comfort in self-disclosure, makes the Internet a valuable tool in help seeking for

teens. This has a direct positive effect on their mental wellbeing, by being able to discuss

online the problems they are facing with their mental health, social network sites have

become a tool for, not an escalation of their issues. The more we try to understand our

use and reliance on the ever evolving Internet and social network sites, the more we can

learn of the benefits it has to offer teenagers across the globe as they grow and develop.


Apaolaza, V., Hartmann, P., Medina, E., Barrutia, J. M., & Echebarria, C. (2013). The

relationship between socializing on the Spanish online networking site Tuenti and

teenagers’ subjective wellbeing: The roles of self-esteem and loneliness.

Computers in Human Behavior, 29(4), 1282-1289.


Best, P., Manktelow, R., & Taylor, B. (2014). Online communication, social media and

adolescent wellbeing: A systematic narrative review. Children and Youth Services

Review, 41, 27-36. doi:10.1016/J.CHILDYOUTH.2014.03.001

Kaur, S., & Vig, D. (2016). Selfie and mental health issues: An overview. Indian Journal

Of Health & Wellbeing, 7(12), 1149-1152.

National Union of Students. (2017, April 12). Further Education and Mental Health


Wilson, C. (2017). Is life today bad for teens?: Headlines claim our teenagers are in the

midst of a mental health crisis. The reality is far more complex, says Clare

Wilson. New Scientist, 236(1349), 22-23.