Social Media is a Major Cause of the Mental Illness Epidemic

In sum, there are now many true experiments using a variety of methods to test questions such as whether reducing or eliminating exposure to social media confers benefits (it does, when continued for at least a month), or if exposing girls and women to Instagram or Instagram-like experiences damages their mood or body image (it does). These experiments provide direct evidence that social media—particularly Instagram—is a cause, not just a correlate, of bad mental health, especially in teen girls and young women.

The Collaborative Review doc that Jean Twenge, Zach Rausch and I have put together collects more than a hundred correlational, longitudinal, and experimental studies, on both sides of the question. Taken as a whole, it shows strong and clear evidence of causation, not just correlation. There are surely other contributing causes, but the Collaborative Review doc points strongly to this conclusion: Social Media is a Major Cause of the Mental Illness Epidemic in Teen Girls.

"It also creates a trap—a collective action problem—for girls and for parents. Each girl might be worse off quitting Instagram even though all girls would be better off if everyone quit."

An article [^1] worth reading from Jonathan Haidt, about social media being the major cause of the mental illness in teen girls. Well, the cause is most measurable in teen girls, social media is also bad for other genders and age groups. I am thankful that this article is published.

My hope is that it makes people rethink and reevaluate their social media usage. It confirms something I and a lot of other people had a gut feeling about. Social Media is the new smoking. We know it is bad, we should label it as bad. This problem or cancer called social media is something we need to battle as a collective.


Also worth reading are the comments on Hacker News [^2].

Like a concerned dad that has 4 daughters:

I'm still reading it, but this is great so far. As a father to four little girls, though, it makes me feel really defeated. I can already see that social media has eroded my wife's mental health. I just don't know what to do in the next few years when our girls approach the age when everyone else will get an iPhone and have an Instagram account.

Or a middle school educator that explains what can be done:

Middle School educator here. I can assure you that your daughters will not be alone when it comes to a moratorium on social media. However, the girls they may very well want to be friends with may be very much into social media and group chats. My advice is to be firm but also take steps to create social opportunities for your daughters. I have a 12yo and I host board game nights with amazing snack trays. I help her to play video games socially using air console. You have to play defense. These apps are deleterious to your daughters self worth. I’ve seen too many hospitalizations and suicides to believe otherwise. But you also have to play offense. They will need guidance on how to be social in a world coopted by manipulation and deceit. Parenting these days is challenging but it’s possible to raise girls who thrive without phones.

Measurements that are taken as a collective:

I once sat next to a dean of private school on a plane—she mentioned that the ~100 parents that sent their children to the school signed an agreement that they would restrict their children's access to social media until 9th grade.

My own journey of quitting social media started in 2012, also wrote about it in this post "Why I stopped using Facebook".

In 2016 I started working on Quiet, it started out as a way to block social media websites in Safari. Because I saw the need for it, for myself, but also for other people. Between 2016 to the end of 2022 it got approximately 35000 users. This year I made Quiet free of charge and donation based. With as goal to get more users to use it.

Every week I receive multiple emails from user that tell stories how Quiet changed them. Even if it is just for being more productive. This is a win.

I am working on bring Quiet to other platforms outside macOS and iOS. To reach more people and to help them to get their focus back and maybe even help some of them with their mental health struggles.