The mental health of young people was relatively stable. About ten years ago that changed

Most important points
  • Women aged 15 to 24 reported a decline in their mental health of 73 to 62 percent.
  • These data have remained largely unchanged over the past 11 years.
  • Young men also report a decline in their mental health.
The mental health of young people used to be relatively stable, until something changed about ten years ago.
Research shows that after 2012, when some of the most popular global social media platforms took off, young Australians reported a sharp decline in their mental wellbeing.
Between 2011 and 2022, young women and girls aged 15 to 24 reported that their mental health scores fell from 73 percent to 62 percent, having remained virtually unchanged for the previous 11 years.

Mental health also deteriorated among young men: from 74.5 percent to 67.5 percent.

Is there a link between social media and mental health?

The revelations come in an analysis published on Thursday by independent economics think tank e61. The Institute of the Household, Income, Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) surveys the lives of more than 17,000 Australians each year.
The data supports the links made between social media use and poor mental health.
“While more data and research are needed to conclude that social media is the cause of worsening mental health among young Australians, the coincident timing of the decline suggests there is a link,” said Gianni La Cava, e61’s director of research.

“We see that young women born after the late 1990s (Generation Z) – who use social media more than any other group – have significantly worse mental health than older women and all men.”

Data shows that social media negatively impacts young people's emotions.

Data shows that social media negatively impacts young people’s emotions. Source: Pixabay / LoboStudioHamburg

Instagram and Snapchat are two of the platforms mentioned in the report.

The latter offers its users mental health education and support.
“We value our culture of diversity and inclusion and want you to feel supported and heard,” the website states.

Instagram also promotes ways to “stay safe.”

Friendships decline as loneliness increases

The decline in mental health was accompanied by a decline in friendships and an increase in feelings of loneliness.
Adults over 25, who tend to use social media less than younger Australians, experienced a less pronounced decline in their mental health, at around three per cent.
Social media platforms have been accused of exacerbating cyberbullying, body image issues and social isolation, leading to proposals from state and federal governments to restrict their use among children.

There are also concerns that social networks are being used to entice vulnerable young people to adopt extremist ideologies.

On Tuesday, a 14-year-old boy allegedly stabbed a student at the University of Sydney after previously completing a deradicalisation programme.
“What we are seeing is that social media is playing an increasingly important role in the radicalisation of young people and in the commission of crime,” Home Secretary Clare O’Neil told Channel Seven’s Sunrise programme on Wednesday following the incident.
The e61 investigation is part of their submission to a parliamentary inquiry into social media and Australian society. In May, an inquiry was launched into Meta’s decision to provide news deals, harmful and illegal content on social media, its impact on mental health and the use of age-verification technology.

The study is expected to make recommendations in November.

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