Mental health falls as social media rises

Sad woman on phone
The mental health of young women started to fall the same time Instagram and Snapchat were launched. | Photo: G Stock Studio

The mental health of young Australians, particularly women and girls, began to fall sharply in the early 2010s, coinciding with the launch of Instagram and Snapchat.

New research by e61 Institute found the self-reported mental health score of young women fell by 11 percent between 2011 and 2022.

The Sydney-based research institute analysed data from the Household, Income, Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey.

It found the average mental health score of women aged 15 to 24 declined from 73 percent to 62 percent in the decade from 2011.

e61 Research Director Gianni La Cava said the mental health of young men declined from 74.5 percent down to 67.5 percent.

Dr La Cava said Instagram launched in 2010 and Snapchat in 2011, both becoming popular in the following years, with Stories introduced on Snapchat in 2012 and Instagram in 2013.

“Our research finds that youth mental health was stable, but then began falling sharply after 2012 which coincides with the time when photo and video-sharing social media platforms became widely popular,” she said.

“While more data and research are needed to say that social media is causing declining mental health among young Australians, the coincident timing of the decline suggests there is a link.

Dr La Cava said young women born since the late 1990s (Generation Z), who used social media more than any other group, had much lower mental health than older women and all men.

“This fits existing data showing they experience higher rates of mental health disorders, greater need for help from mental health professionals and increasing rates of mental health-related hospitalisations.”

Dr La Cava said 90 percent of women aged 15 to 24 used social media every day, or most days, compared to 75 percent of young men, 62 percent of women over 25 and 46 percent of men over 25.

She said the e61 research also found rates of social isolation among young people had been increasing since 2012 after a stable period and were again worse among young women.

Read the full analysis.