Government says “social media not to blame for mental illness”

The Department for Education report says social media use is not directly harming children’s mental health, however it shines a light on associated risks such as online bullying and lack of sleep.

Joe Lepper | 11th Oct 19

Social media use is not to blame for young people’s mental health problems, a government report has concluded.

Instead charities and other groups supporting the emotional wellbeing of young people are being urged to focus their efforts on tackling online bullying and lack of sleep and exercise associated with being online, sometimes late into the night.

The Department for Education’s State of the Nation 2019 : Children and Young People’s Wellbeing report included a detailed look at the mental health risks faced by teenage girls.

This found that: “Social media use did not have a strong association with teenage girls’ psychological health, after accounting for the range of factors we examined.”

But while social media sites themselves do not have a negative affect on teenagers’ mental health the report does warn of associated digital risks, such as cyber bullying and being online at the expense of sleep and exercise.

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“Being bullied, including online bullying, had an association with psychological health about eight times larger than social media use.” states the report.

“This suggested that when accounting for other factors such as the effect of bullying, physical health and sleep, and the frequency of seeing friends, social media use had only a minimal unique association with psychological health.”

The State of the Nation report also cites a report published earlier this year by the government’s Chief Medical Officer into screen based activities, which found “there was little causal evidence for the association between screen time and wellbeing.”

“It further suggested that any detrimental effects of screen time may be indirectly through it displacing other positive activities, such as exercise and sleep, rather than through direct impacts on wellbeing.”


Cyber bullying risks

The report found that teenage girls are more at risk than boys to cyber bullying. It also found that five per cent of 10-to 15-year-olds say they are relatively unhappy with their lives.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “It’s encouraging that the overwhelming majority of children say they are happy, but we have a responsibility to do better for those that aren’t.

“We have given teachers the power to tackle bad behaviour like bullying so that school is a safe place for every child to thrive, but today’s report helps shine a light on where to focus these efforts.”