Social media comparisons damaging mental health, say experts

A survey of social media users found that young people are among the most at risk from poor mental health caused by comparing themselves with others online.

Joe Lepper | 12th Aug 19
Image of a young woman on her phone, representing social media and mental health currently the target for online abuse

People’s mental health is at risk due to comparing themselves to others online, according to experts.

Clinical psychologists have warned that people using social media are at risk of feeling inadequate and inferior by comparing themselves and their body image to others.

Their concerns come after a survey of 2,000 social media users found that young people, aged 16-24, are particularly susceptible to negative mental health affects of using social media.

Among this age group 82% have compared themselves to friends, celebrities and total strangers on social media.

Futhermore, almost half of 16-24 year olds have de-tagged themselves from a photo on social media, while a third have asked for one to be removed completely.

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More than a third said they would feel self-conscious if they found an unfiltered photo online, and 28% said they would feel anxiety.

Negative self perceptions

NHS Clinical Psychologist Dr Hayley Higson, said that social media provides “unlimited opportunities” for people to compare themselves to others.

“While this can be viewed as a source of motivation and inspiration, it is more often associated with the development of negative self-perceptions, feelings of inadequacy, inferiority and low mood,” she added.

Dr Kelly Price, who is also an NHS Clincal Psychologist, said: “The use of photographs on social media creates an environment where individuals determine our social and personal worth.

“It’s argued that body or lifestyle comparisons with peers may, as a result, provide a standard toward which to strive.”

The survey was carried out for the website How Filtered Is Your Life and also found that other age groups are at risk of letting their use of social media negatively impact on their mental health.

Among 25-34-year-olds, 41% have de-tagged themselves from a photo, with five per cent of over 55s doing this.

Reasons for altering, editing or removing photos among those surveyed included feeling ugly, which was cited by 45% looking overweight, by 34% and not getting enough likes, by 11%.

Tougher regulation

Earlier this month a report by the think tank Demos found that the general public wants social media firms to do more to tackle concerns about online harm among young and vulnerable people.

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A survey by Demos found that almost half of those who want tougher regulation believe the move would reduce self-harm and suicide.

Tougher regulation of social network firms is being planned in the governments’ Online Harms White Paper. The NSPCC earlier this year found that nine out of ten parents back this move.