Negative experiences on social media can affect young people's mental health
Secondary school students with negative experiences from social media have an increased risk of symptoms of anxiety and depression. This is shown by a study from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.
This article was published in Norwegian on the 11th August 2023.
A recent study has revealed an association between negative experiences on social media and mental health among young people. The survey, which was carried out among over 3,000 Norwegian youth at upper secondary school, shows that even less serious incidents, such as unwanted attention and exclusion on social media, can impact young people's mental health.
The study found a clear association between negative events on social media and increased symptoms of anxiety and depression, with a lower degree of well-being among the young people.
Negative events included being contacted by strangers, receiving negative comments on posts, receiving hurtful messages, or feeling excluded from groups/chats.
– It is important to note that even though these negative experiences may appear less serious compared to cyberbullying, they can still have a significant connection with young people's mental well-being, says Jens Christoffer Skogen, senior researcher at NIPH.
More negative experiences among young people from families with lower socio-economic status
– The findings are particularly concerning since we have previously observed a social gradient in this, where young people who come from families with a lower socio-economic status report more different, and more frequently occurring, negative experiences on social media, says Skogen.
Therefore, social media use may help to reinforce existing social inequality in mental health, and be an extra burden for vulnerable young people.
Need for action to protect youth
The researcher believes the results of the study highlight the need for increased attention and action to protect young people from negative experiences on social media. It is important to create a safe and supportive digital environment where young people can thrive and develop.
- Increased attention should not only be directed towards serious and less frequent negative experiences on social media such as bullying, but also towards more frequent negative experiences such as social exclusion and negative feedback/back biting, says the senior researcher.
He believes that more knowledge about social media use among the young people themselves and adults, as well as increased commitment and curiosity from parents and teachers regarding young people's lives on social media, can perhaps help to reduce the extent of negative incidents on social media. An important contribution can be better communication and increased awareness of how experiences on social media, both positive and negative, affect young people's mood and behaviour in everyday life.
Created the teaching resource “ungpasome.no”
The study is part of a larger collaborative project which aimed to create a better health-promoting environment on social media. In this project, Bergen Municipality, Vestland County and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health have developed the teaching resource www.ungpasome.no. The development took place in close collaboration with young people, teachers and researchers, and is therefore both evidence- and consensus-based.
The resource is primarily aimed at young people in lower and upper secondary school and will help to increase awareness and reflection on how life on social media is linked to mental health and well-being. Relevant information for teachers, parents and young people is gathered on the website. The teaching is linked to competence targets in Norwegian and social studies, and to the overall part of the curriculum (LK20).
Using the teaching resource requires little preparation, it does not come in addition to other teaching - but is a resource to be able to meet competence goals in Norwegian and social studies. It is recommended to carry out this in the introduction phase (the first weeks after the start of school) because it will also contribute to building culture in the classroom.
Importance of investigating possible causal relationships
As the study was a cross-sectional study, Skogen emphasises the need for further research to better understand the possible causal link between negative experiences on social media and mental health challenges.
- It is also important to explore any factors that may explain or influence this connection, says Skogen.