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Instagram Under Fire for Damaging Mental Health

Ross Kelly

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Social Media Influencers

Is social media damaging young people’s mental health? Instagram changing its app and hiring specialist teams to assist young users dealing with body-image issues or mental health problems. 

Instagram is a platform where users can express themselves through stunning visuals, lovey-dovey selfies or even posts from your latest drinking escapades. It has over 800 million active monthly users.

With such a vibrant online community offering a broad spectrum of content, one would assume it ranks as one of the more positively viewed social media platforms – Especially when considering recent revelations regarding Facebook.

The mobile photo sharing app, which is owned by Facebook, has come under fire however for its’ supposed damaging effects on users psychological and emotional wellbeing; with users’ body image, depression and anxiety all being caused by or worsened by the app.

Last year, Britain’s Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) released the findings of a study into the psychological and emotional effects of social media on users.

The report claimed Instagram was lowest on the list of five major platforms platform for mental health and wellbeing compared to counterparts such as Twitter, Snapchat and Youtube – which was, surprisingly, ranked as best for wellbeing.

In response to these claims, Instagram is introducing a number of new features to help its users and is even going so far as to set up a team that specifically deals with the issues at hand.

Who is This Affecting?

According to the study by the RSPH, mental health and body image issues are affecting many young people using the app. Users scrolling down their feeds will often come into contact with images of perfect-looking celebrities and friends, and this is causing a damaging effect on their mental health.

Although the report does point toward users valuing several aspects of the app such as; self-expression, self-identity and community building. Overall the figures focus toward the negative, with users stating they experienced loneliness, depression, anxiety poor sleeping habits and cyber-bullying

Considering there has been a rise in mental health issues among young people – a 70% rise in anxiety disorders in the last 25 years ensuring that social media platforms are vigilant to this and implement safeguards is crucial.

Instagram is now deeply embedded into the fabric of our digital lives, and Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive of RSPH, says: “Social media has been described as more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol, and is now so entrenched in the lives of young people that it is no longer possible to ignore it when talking about young people’s mental health issues.”

Following the RSPH report, similar research into social media by Carmen Papuluca of Notre Dame Unviersity revealed a link between Instagram and mental health issues. This report detailed how women in their mid-twenties regularly expressed concerns over their work and lifestyles, while also feeling inadequate and insecure.

For even younger users – specifically women in their late-teens to early-20’s – the app appears to have a significant negative impact on body image

Instagram’s Mental Health Solution

The RSPH report outlines key areas that need to be addressed by Instagram and suggests that all social media platforms highlight photos that may have been digitally altered. This could be in the form of a small icon or watermark in a photograph that signifies it has been airbrushed or filtered. Additionally, it recommends that apps begin notifying users when they have spent extended periods of time browsing. Indeed, 30% of the survey subjects said they would support a move to implement this system, or an automatic forced log-out for users that are spending too much time scrolling through images.

Instagram isn’t burying its’ head in the sand on this issue, however, and is tackling it by introducing a Wellbeing Team to ensure users are safe and happy when scrolling down their feeds. What exactly the team will be doing is yet unknown, however Instagram’s Eva Chen, who heads up fashion partnerships, did speak to Bloomberg last week, giving a brief outline of what the teams will focus on, saying:

“[The team’s] entire focus is focusing on the wellbeing of the community,” said Chen, in response to a question about its parent company, Facebook, and its effects on mental health. “Making the community a safer place, a place where people feel good, is a huge priority for Instagram,” Chen added, “I would say one of the top priorities.”

In addition to this, the social media app has implemented changes, such as links to mental health assistance networks and adding filters for offensive comments or content. The app has not, however, taken up the RSPH’s suggestions of adding notifications for when users spend too much time on the app.

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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