Social media websites are the most popular thing on the internet right now. Everyone uses them, and the opinions on whether they are good or bad are mixed. Some people experience negative effects of using social media, but what do the statistics say? How does social media affect mental health? Science gives us some very interesting but also very alarming information.
Editor’s picks of social media and mental health statistics:
- 72% of adults and 97% of teens use social media websites
- YouTube is by far the most used platform (85% of teens and 73% of adults)
- 89% of teens use social media frequently, out of which 45% use it almost constantly
- 30% of all people, 49% of adolescents believe they are addicted to social media
- Those who use social media more frequently have far more mental health issues
- Limiting the usage of social media leads to lower depression symptoms
- Victims of cyberbullying are more than twice as likely to have suicidal tendencies
General social media statistics
- Nearly all teens and most adults use social media
We all use social media. But how many people exactly use it? PEW research center reports that a total of 72% of adults1 and 97% of teens2 (aged 13 to 17) use at least one social media platform. The usage is the highest among the youngest population, but is relatively high (40%) even in the eldest category. More detailed statistics can be seen in the graph below.
- Women use social media 1.2 times more than men
So, many people use social media, but who uses it more? PEW shows that women use social media more (78%) than men (65%). Furthermore, people with a higher household income (above 50k) also use it more (around 80%), compared to those with a household income of below 50k (69%). It is also used the most by college graduates (79%), compared to college students (74%) and those with no college (64%). The usage is very evenly distributed amongst people that are white (73%), Hispanic (70%), and Afro-American (69%)1. It turns out that, the most common user of social media is a white woman who graduated college and earns over 50k.
- YouTube is the most popular platform, across all ages
Probably not surprising to many, YouTube is the dominant social platform. The most used platforms amongst teens in 2018 were YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and Twitter. Adults spend most of their time on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn (according to a report from 2019). The more detailed statistics can be seen in the graph below.
- Most of teens use social media very frequently
Okay, so a lot of teens use social media, but how much do they use it? It turns out that nearly a half of teens (45%) report that they use social media “almost constantly”, while 44% report that they use it several times a day, leaving only 11% of teens who use it less than that2.
- A quarter of teens see the effects of social media as dominantly negative
Around a third of teens (31%) indicate that the effect of social media on their health is mostly positive, 24% state that it is mostly negative, while most of them (45%) state that the effect is neutral. A small but significant fraction of teens (4%) reported negative effects to mental health as one of the negative aspects of social media usage2.
- A third of teens have problems with anxiety
Now that we understand how much do people use social media, what can we learn about their mental health? A lot of teens and adults alike have mental health issues. A study indicated that 13% of teens aged 12-17 report having depression, and 32% report having anxiety. Mental health problems are also common amongst young adults, 25% of whom have some sort of mental health issues8.
- 30% of participants, nearly half of teens think that they are addicted to social media
We’ve all heard of social media addiction. Not everyone has the same attitude towards what being addicted means, but it is important to know how many people think that they are in fact social media addicts. A study by ThinkNow has shown that 21% of participants indicated that the sentence “I am addicted to social media” describes them somewhat, while 9% claimed that it describes them completely. This total percentage is the highest amongst teens (49%)3. Female participants are more commonly addicted (23% somewhat, 11% completely) than male (19% somewhat, 7% completely).
- Multiple studies link higher social media usage to mental health issues
Science shows a clear relationship between overt social media usage and mental health issues. A recent Chinese study has shown that adults who used social media more during the pandemic had 1.72 the odds of suffering from anxiety and 1.91 the odds of suffering from a combination of depression and anxiety, compared to people who used social media less4. A British study of nearly 13.000 teens has shown that the adolescents who used social media more were 1.31/1.67 (girls/boys) times as likely to have mental health issues. Girls who use social media very frequently also had 0.86 the life satisfaction, 0.8 the happiness and 1.28 the anxiety of their peers who are infrequent users7. Another study found that heavy users of social media are three times as likely to experience depression symptoms, in comparison to casual users9. A fourth study found that the users who spend the most time on social media have 1.66 the odds of being depressed, in comparison to those who use it the least10. This is best illustrated by a study conducted on students in Ontario, that has demonstrated a clear relationship between social media usage frequency and reported mental health problems, which can be seen on the graph bellow11.
- Limiting social media can lower depression by 37%
All those studies indicate that using social media a lot, but it may be that those with mental health problems just tend to overuse social media, right? Maybe, but probably not. A study conducted by a group of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania has shown that limiting social media websites usage for three weeks to around 150 minutes per week had an effect of lowering depressive symptoms for initially highly depressed individuals (from 23 to 14.5, equaling to a 37% decrease). The control group did not change the level of depression (from 22.8 to 22.83) during the same time interval. Individuals who initially showed low scores on the depression scale also had a slight, but statistically significant drop (from 5.1 to 4.1) which was not present in the control group (from 5 to 4.67)5.
- Cyberbullying is a huge contributor to mental health problems
Another important aspect of the effects of social media on mental health. Reportedly, 72% of teens experience cyberbullying at some point8. A meta-study from 2018 showed that, compared to nonvictims, those who have experienced cybervictimization were 2.35 times as likely to self-harm, 2.10 times as likely to exhibit suicidal behaviors, 2.57 times more likely to attempt suicide, and 2.15 times more likely to have suicidal thoughts. Cyberbullying perpetrators were 1.21 times more likely to exhibit suicidal behaviors and 1.23 times more likely to experience suicidal ideation than nonperpetrators6. Conclusion
While everyone uses social media and most don’t think that it affects them negatively, it seems that people who use it the most commonly suffer from mental health issues. This may be due to being addicted, or being a victim of cyberbullying, or something else, but it is clear that the relationship exists. Luckily, there is a solution: science shows that not quitting, but simply limiting social media usage leads to significant decreases in depression. 30 minutes is a recommended duration of using social media each day, in order not to use it too much. So, if you find yourself in the group that uses it all the time, it may be time to reconsider and knock it down a notch.