Link between social media use, mental health stronger in girls

Henrietta Brewer
January 7, 2019

In a study analysing data from almost 11,000 young people in Britain, researchers found that 14-year-old girls were heavier users of social media, with two-fifths of them using it for more than three hours a day, compared with a fifth of boys. Among kids who used social media for over five hours per day, the depression scores rose by 50 percent in girls and 35 percent in boys compared to the light users.

The results prompted renewed concern about the rapidly accumulating evidence that many more girls and young women exhibit a range of mental health problems than boys and young men, and about the damage these can cause, including self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

The study is the first of its kind and is based on data from nearly 11,000 14-year-olds who are taking part in the Millennium Cohort Study, a large-scale research project looking into the lives of children.

LONDON-Teenage girls are twice as likely as boys to show depressive symptoms linked to social media use, mainly due to online harassment and disturbed sleep as well as poor body image and lower self-esteem, researchers said on Friday. Furthermore, girls are using social media at higher rates, with two in five of them spending three or more hours a day on social media as opposed to one in five boys. "For girls, greater daily hours of social media use corresponded to a stepwise increase in depressive symptoms", said Yvonne Kelly, a professor at UCL. Poor sleep has always been associated with depressive symptoms.


Yet the study, conducted in the United Kingdom, showed only an association between social media use and symptoms of depression, which can include feelings of unhappiness, restlessness or loneliness.

Percentage of girls in a study who reported experiencing disrupted sleep, compared with 28 per cent of boys. "My best bet would be the types of things that girls and boys do online", stated Kelly to CNN.

That pattern of stark gender differences was repeated when young people were quizzed about other key aspects of their feelings and behaviour, Kelly's team found.

Girls were also more likely to have experience of online harassment or cyber bullying and get less quality sleep because of extra time spent online. Social media use was proportionately related to less sleep, taking more time to fall asleep and more disruptions during sleep.


Researchers found the most important routes from social media use to depressive symptoms were shown to be via poor sleep and online harassment. These girls are also unhappy with their appearances.

"Their use of platforms like Instagram and Snapchat can also undermine children's view of themselves by making them feel inferior to the people they follow", she added.

The study had some limitations, including that the findings show only a correlation between depressive symptoms and social media use, not a causal relationship.


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