Keeping teens off social media won’t help their mental health, experts have a better solution

46% of teens admit that social media can sometimes make them feel down about their body image.

46% of teens admit that social media can sometimes make them feel down about their body image.

Published Apr 10, 2024


In many Western societies, the stigma around mental health discussions is gradually dissipating.

This change in attitude is evident in everyday conversations, from casual chats over drinks to the pervasive content across social media platforms, urging individuals to explore their mental well-being, childhood influences, and coping strategies.

This shift has been a long-awaited development for numerous individuals previously excluded from such discussions, marking a significant transformation in societal norms.

However, some experts express concern that this widespread focus on mental health could potentially backfire.

While the increased openness and encouragement to delve into personal mental health issues are generally viewed positively, certain scholars warn that the omnipresence of these conversations might inadvertently contribute to heightened anxiety and stress, affecting overall mental health negatively.

In today's digital age, it's no surprise to find that nearly every teen you bump into is glued to their social media accounts.

An impressive 95% of young people between the ages of 13 and 17 are navigating the endless sea of social media, with two-thirds diving in daily and a third practically making it their virtual home.

But it’s not all thumbs up and heart emojis in the social media sphere.

While it connects friends and fuels creative passions, there's a flip side to the story.

Experts are sounding the alarm on how these digital playgrounds might be affecting teenagers’ mental well-being.

Spending more than three hours a day scrolling can double the risk of feeling blue or anxious. And considering teens are clocking in around 3.5 hours daily on social media, it's a bit worrying.

When it comes to how these platforms affect how they see themselves, about 46% of teens admit that social media can sometimes make them feel down about their body image.

Yet, there's a silver lining to this cloud. Despite the potential pitfalls, social media could be a game-changer in supporting teens' mental health, especially for those who find it tough to get help elsewhere.

Think of it not just as a place for selfies and hashtags but as a space where teens can find a voice, seek support, and connect in ways that were unimaginable before.

Sure, the road to tackling the youth mental health crisis is long and winding, requiring the government to train more therapists, challenge the pressure to be perfect, and make it okay to say, “I need help”.

Long-term structural measures, such as increasing therapist training, combating success culture, and removing the stigma associated with getting treatment, will be necessary to address the youth mental health epidemic.

But right now, millions of teenagers are in pain.

More than half of teenagers who require mental health services do not receive treatment, with LGBTQIA+ kids and adolescents of colour experiencing the greatest disparities.

My research group has evaluated online, self-guided SSIs that teach condensed, evidence-based therapies (such as cognitive behavioural therapy) in randomised trials.

These one-time interventions consist of a brief introduction to an evidence-based coping skill and the scientific justification for its effectiveness; personal coping narratives from other adolescent participants facing comparable difficulties; an opportunity to offer anonymous coping advice to others dealing with depression, anxiety, or related issues; and the ability to develop an action plan to take the best possible next step towards a desired future.

Studies reveal that these SSIs can significantly lower anxiety and depression in teenagers.

Cape Times