New research released in June 2023 from headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation shows that half of young people surveyed wanted to disconnect from social media but a fear of missing out (FOMO) may be stopping them, with close to a third feeling pressured to keep up with everything from politics to gossip on social media.
The headspace National Youth Mental Health Survey surveyed 3107 young people and found 51 per cent of young people have thought about logging off social media, but FOMO keeps them online. This is despite almost half (44 per cent) of respondents agreeing the content they see is more negative than positive.
In fact, a third (35 per cent) of young people also felt an urge to use social media more and more, despite them knowing its negative impacts.
Participants told headspace they felt pressure to use social media to keep up to date with news and current events (32 per cent).
Ultimately, one in three young people who took part in the survey were found to experience problematic social media use1 (33 per cent).
“We know young people can have really positive experiences using these platforms,” says headspace chief executive officer, Jason Trethowan.
“Social media can be used to connect with others, as a creative outlet, to learn new things and to pursue interests. Overall, 41 per cent of young people we surveyed said the information they can find on social media is empowering, and two in five reported social media is also a good place to meet new friends.”
Social media has also given young people the opportunity to find their voice; almost half of young people agreed it is easier to express their opinions online than in person (44 per cent).
“However, the amount of content and the kind of content on social media can be very overwhelming,” says Jason. “The more time young people spend on social media, the less time they have for other important parts of life, such as being active, getting into life, sleeping and eating well. It’s also the reasons they’re choosing to use social media that need to be addressed including the decision to disconnect from social media”
“Young people thinking of logging off might experience a fear of missing out on news, popular culture or conversations with friends. They may also worry about how going offline could impact their status or influence. It’s similar to the feeling young people might experience if they missed out on a party or social event. Finding the right balance and knowing when to disconnect from social media is essential for their mental well-being
Social media can also lead us to make unhelpful comparisons between our life and the lives of others, whether they be friends, celebrities or social media influencers.
The research shows us young people are aware of how social media can impact their mental health now and into the future, with 55 per cent of survey participants agreeing the content they post today will impact their job prospects and relationships going forward. They are telling us that they are aware of the risks and they want to switch off.
“But that’s easier said than done when most platforms are designed to keep us scrolling. That’s why the responsibility to foster healthy social media habits can’t rest solely on the shoulders of young people or their families. It is important that social media companies and governments put in place the mechanisms needed to ensure users can have a safe and healthy experience.”
The National Youth Mental Health Survey also found a majority of young people who were surveyed believed not enough was being done in terms of regulation and laws surrounding social media (55 per cent).
Headspace is the National Youth Mental Health Foundation providing early intervention mental health services to young people 12 to 25, as well as their family and friends. headspace has 154 centres across Australia in metropolitan, regional and remote areas. Help is also available via phone and online counselling service, eheadspace, seven days a week 9am–1am (AEST). 1800 650 890.
Headspace can help young people with mental health, physical health (including sexual health) alcohol and other drug services and work and study support. Centre details, as well as factsheets and resources, can be found at headspace.org.au
If you’re looking for someone to talk to immediately, Lifeline (13 11 14) and Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) are available to talk 24/7.
1 Measured using The Bergen Social Media Addiction Scale — a six-item scale that assesses degree of problematic social media use.