Insta menace

According to a health report, Instagram is the most detrimental social-networking app for young people’s mental health. We asked experts to weight the cons.

It won’t come as a surprise to many that Instagram is the most damaging social networking app for young people’s mental health, followed closely by Snapchat, according to a new report by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) in the UK. Their study, #StatusofMind, surveyed around 1,500 young people aged 14 to 24 on how certain social media platforms impact health and well-being issues such as anxiety, depression, self-identity and body image. Lucky for YouTube, as it was found to have the most positive impact. On the other hand, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter all demonstrated negative affects overall on young people’s mental health.

Findings of the report

Matt Keracher, author of the report said that Instagram draws young women to “compare themselves against unrealistic, largely curated, filtered and Photoshopped versions of reality.” An anonymous female said in the report, “Instagram easily makes girls and women feel as if their bodies aren’t good enough as people add filters and edit their pictures in order for them to look ‘perfect.’”

Damage control

The RSPH has called for social media platforms to place a warning on images that have been digitally manipulated. Also, to introduce pop-ups on sites such as Twitter and Facebook warning users about heavy usage.

#StatusofMind concluded that while Instagram negatively affected body image, sleep patterns and added to a sense of ‘FOMO’ i.e the fear of missing out, the image app was also a positive outlet for self-expression and self-identity for many of its young users.

Expert speak

Do our experts agree with the findings of the study? “It is surely amongst the top three creating a negative impact. Simply because Instagram is not perceived as an app by many people. It’s a measuring scale of one’s identity and self-worth. You are only worth it if you look great, have many followers, likes on your pictures and more people want to follow you. Your presence is determined by your photos which makes the app mainly ‘appearance’ based,” says Mansi Hasan, Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist, Tobacco Treatment Specialist (Mayo Clinic, USA). Hasan has encountered many young people with behavioural/mental health problems due to Instagram in particular. They suffer from poor self-image, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders, depression and anxiety and sometimes also contemplate suicide. Their age varies from 14 years to 35-40 years.

WhatsApp, Facebook and others are as bad as Instagram

Dr Harish Shetty MD, Psychiatrist, Dr L H Hiranandani Hospital, on the other hand, disagrees that Instagram is the most harmful social networking app for young people’s mental health. “I disagree and feel that WhatsApp, Facebook as well as others are as bad as Instagram. Pictures and videos are shared along with painful phrases in other forms of social media too,” he says adding that demonising one form among the many smells of motivated vengeance.

Dr Shetty deals with patient’s behavioural issues with all forms of social media especially WhatsApp, Facebook, Snapchat and others. “Addiction, bullying and sexting are common issues. Many lose their self-esteem and also are depressed following humiliation on the net. Suicidal behaviour is also seen following emotional violence, he informs adding that girls are more affected and between the age of 12 to 30,” he adds.

Young women are more vulnerable

Hasan agrees with the survey that Instagram negatively impacts young women. She says that the main expression of Instagram is visuals. “Younger women are more vulnerable to acquiring their self-worth from their looks and approval from others. They compare themselves to others who they may perceive as more physically appealing and end up feeling inadequate themselves. Comparisons are made on basis of filters and angles while the reality may be miles apart. Also, following celebrities creates more pressure on young girls to fit the norm of ‘good looks’,” she says.

Do not demonize social media

“All social media apps are equally harmful. Those who post a lot of profile pictures or post pictures anywhere already have a low self-esteem,” opines Dr. Shetty. However, do not demonize social media. It has a lot of beneficial effects. It is a counselling space where people spontaneously share their pain and agony. Counselling follows albeit from acquaintances and friends. Solace from strangers is also better than waiting for close relatives to heal any one in pain, he says.



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