young people cite social media as main reason for worsening mental health

headspace data released today about the impact of social media on young people’s mental health has prompted the national youth mental health foundation to call for better regulation by governments and the social media platforms themselves. 

The headspace National Youth Mental Health Survey found more than half of young people (57%) believe their mental health is getting worse, with 42% citing social media as the main reason for the decline[i].

The release of this data shows a significant increase from the previous 2018 headspace National Youth Mental Health Survey, where 37% of young people named social media as the cause of declining mental health[ii]. 

The second most common response was expectations from school, family and community (20%).

Other reasons young people believed their mental health was deteriorating included: global issues (16%), the COVID-19 pandemic (14%) and work and study pressure (13%).

headspace CEO Jason Trethowan said that while organisations such as headspace can offer support to young people using social media, the responsibility cannot lie solely with them because many of these platforms are engineered to keep people online.  

“It’s clear from the research that social media is something young people feel is putting more and more pressure on them. Spending too long on social media is associated with higher levels of mental health problems, including anxiety, depression and psychological distress.  

“Other impacts include cyberbullying, sleep problems and concerns about body image.

“There are positives when it comes to using social media in moderation. Young people tell us they value their social connections online, and the access it provides to information – including mental health.

“However, we run into problems when the amount of time young people spend on social media takes them away from the things that keep them healthy: getting enough sleep, eating well, staying active and spending time with family and friends.

“We can offer young people tools and resources to support their wellbeing, but the onus can’t solely lie with social media users. There needs to be greater emphasis from parent companies of these platforms to ensure young people have safe and healthy experiences.

In the meantime, headspace is encouraging young people to take action to protect themselves. This includes steps such as, monitoring social media usage and limit how much time you spend online – and how it makes you feel after use; adjusting privacy settings so only people you know can see what you post, and screenshotting abusive behaviour and reporting it to the social media platform.

“It is important to recognise that some of these platforms are designed to keep young people online, and that reducing use is not always as simple as it sounds,” Trethowan said.

“It is the role of the entire community, including governments and the social media platforms themselves, to support young people to both understand the harms of social media overuse and also navigate platforms safely.” 

If you’re worried about a young person in your life, or if you feel like social media use is impacting you, reach out to headspace for support. You can visit your nearest headspace centre, or connect with phone and online support service at eheadspace or by phoning 1800 650 890.

eSafety also provides helpful resources and information to help young people stay safe online. The eSafety website also has helpful information for parents and carers.


[i] headspace National Youth Mental Health Survey 2020

[ii] headspace National Youth Mental Health Survey 2018