Social Media is a Major Cause of the Mental Illness Epidemic in Teen Girls

We are now 11 years into the largest epidemic of teen mental illness on record. As the CDC’s recent report showed, most girls are suffering, and nearly a third have seriously considered suicide. Why is this happening, and why did it start so suddenly around 2012?

We sure seem to work hard to picture the world as worse than it really is to justify the mental health crisis. see Don’t be a doomer – Noah Smith

The way we have parented has reduced kids’ resiliency and then we threw a social media trap on top of that.

Pre-Social Media, maybe around 1999 or 2000 I did some, very unsophisticated, research for a psychology research design class. I surveyed a reasonably large sample of college students about their media consumption and their mental health. The survey was pretty granular and what I found was that there was no measurable impact from TV or movies or pretty much anything else, but fashion magazines had a significant negative impact on the self-esteem of women. I wondered at the time if that was because of the airbrushing and photoshopping that created unatainable beauty standards.

And as a society we just took all that and put it on steroids and then added the layer of being constantly judged by your peers. Pure poison.

There is one giant, obvious, international, and gendered cause: Social media. Instagram was founded in 2010. The iPhone 4 was released then too—the first smartphone with a front-facing camera. In 2012 Facebook bought Instagram, and that’s the year that its user base exploded. By 2015, it was becoming normal for 12-year-old girls to spend hours each day taking selfies, editing selfies, and posting them for friends, enemies, and strangers to comment on, while also spending hours each day scrolling through photos of other girls and fabulously wealthy female celebrities with (seemingly) vastly superior bodies and lives. The hours girls spent each day on Instagram were taken from sleep, exercise, and time with friends and family. What did we think would happen to them?