Health downside to social media
LONDON: Social media is fuelling a surge of depression, anxiety and self-harm in young women in Britain, health officials warned.
More than a quarter of women aged 16 to 24 are suffering from a mental health disorder, three times the rate for young men.
And a fifth of young women have harmed themselves, a three-fold rise since 2000, a major National Health Service report reveals.
Experts blame the growing influence of social media sites such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for encouraging feelings of insecurity.
There is pressure on youngsters to log on to these sites to post photos and comments about their apparently “exciting” lives.
This is encouraging competition, self-loathing and bullying, particularly among young women, experts say. The report by NHS Digital was based on a survey of 7 500 adults aged 16 and above about their mental health. But of most concern are women aged 16 to 24. Some 26 percent of them were found to be experiencing common mental health disorder symptoms, up from 19 percent in 1993.
These include depression, anxiety, obsessive behaviour and sleeping problems – which affect only 9 percent of men of the same age.
The survey found that 19.7 percent of young women had harmed themselves at least once in their lives, up from 6.5 percent in 2000. The report said it was likely many did it repeatedly as a long-term coping strategy.
Another one in eight (12.7 percent) showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition suffered by some soldiers returning from war.
The report said there was mounting evidence social media exposure and excessive use of mobile phones and computers were to blame for this surge.
Lead author Sally McManus, from the National Centre for Social Research, said there were very high rates of depression and anxiety among women aged 16 to 24. “This is the first cohort to come of age in social media ubiquity,” she said. “It warrants further investigation.”
The NHS mental health survey is carried out every seven years and these latest results are from 2014. Experts said the findings were the first indication of the impact social media websites are having on young women’s mental health.
Many feel obliged to enhance their photos for fear they might be labelled fat or ugly. Others admit to feeling rejected if their images don’t get enough positive comments or “likes” on Facebook.
Despite the alarming trends, figures last week showed the NHS has slashed spending on mental health services. Fiftyseven percent of health trusts plan to reduce their budget for the next 12 months.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said an NHS plan to revolutionise mental health care would see an additional £1 billion invested every year by 2020.
Across all ages, one in five women have symptoms of a mental disorder compared to one in eight men. These figures have steadily increased in women but remained broadly stable in men, the report said. – Daily Mail