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Instagram Is the Worst Social Media Platform for Your Mental Health

fb-instagram-mental-health-study.jpgA fit-fluencer's six-pack. Double tap. Scroll. A happy vacay beach selfie. Double tap. Scroll. A fab-looking birthday party with everyone dressed to the nines. Double tap. Scroll.

Your current status? Old bathrobe, feet up on the couch, no makeup, yesterday's hair—and no filter is going to make it look otherwise.

This is one reason why Instagram, as it turns out, might just be the worst social media platform for your mental health, according to a new report by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) in the U.K. As part of the report, the RSPH polled almost 1,500 young adults from the U.K. (14 to 24 years old) about the mental and emotional effects of the most popular social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and YouTube. The survey included questions about emotional support, anxiety and depression, loneliness, self-identity, bullying, sleep, body image, real-world relationships, and FOMO (fear of missing out). The survey found that Instagram, in particular, resulted in the worst body image, anxiety, and depression scores.


It doesn't take rocket science to figure out why. Instagram is the most curated and blatantly filtered of the main social media platforms. You can facetune, luxe, and filter until you're (literally) blue in the face, or contour a bigger booty or brighter eyes with the tap of a button. (And there are plenty of posing tricks to take better Instas to begin with.) All this visual perfection can promote "a 'compare and despair' attitude," according to the report—which results when you compare your day-to-day life and makeup-free face with the #flawless selfies and luxurious vacations you see on your feed.


What you see on IG is not always what you get . Left: photo raw from my camera (Canon G7X) . Right: Photo edited using Facetune app. NO reshaping was done, only filters. This app allows you to apply filters to only some areas of the photo. Black and white 60% applied to the background to make me stand out more and to my hair to make it look more ashy. Darken filter applied at 20% opacity to my skin to make me appear more tanned and jacked. Belt and shorts brightened. Detail added to eyes and lips . Why am I posting this??? To show you how filters can be applied selectively and so subtly that they look like #nofilter. IG is not real life. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with doing this (I do it sometimes). I just want some more transparency in what is going on out there and how people edit their photos

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The safest social vice? YouTube, which was the only one to have a net-positive effect on viewers, according to this study. The researchers found that it only had a significantly negative effect on sleep, and a small negative effect on body image, bullying, FOMO, and relationships IRL. Twitter scored second place, Facebook third, and Snapchat fourth, each with progressively worse scores for anxiety and depression, FOMO, bullying, and body image. (FYI, this contradicts a previous report that showed that Snapchat was the best bet for social media–fueled happiness.)

On the flip side, all of the social media apps were linked with higher self-expression, self-identity, community building, and emotional support—so, no, scrolling and swiping isn't 100 percent evil.

There's been plenty of debate on the advantages and downsides of social media, and just how to use it to get the highs without the lows. (Repeat after me: Put down the smartphone in bed.) But it's no coincidence that the rise of the digital era—and the onslaught of "look at my fabulous life!" social media—is accompanied by a serious increase in mental health issues in young people. In fact, rates of anxiety and depression in young people have risen by a whopping 70 percent in the past 25 years, according to the report. (It's not just Instagram. Having too many social apps has been linked with an increased risk for these issues too.)

In the end, social media is pretty addictive, and the chances you're willing to ditch it completely are slim to none, health effects be damned. If you find yourself feeling down from a marathon scrolling sesh, try switching over to feel-good hashtags like #LoveMyShape, these other body-positive tags, or the "Oddly Satisfying" Instagram wormhole—watching those weird videos is actually a lot like a mini meditation.


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