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Youth mental health has plummeted since Instagram and Snapchat: New research

e61 Institute 2 mins read

The mental health of young Australians, particularly women and girls, began to fall sharply in the early 2010s, which coincides with the launch and growth of Instagram and Snapchat, new research by e61 Institute has found.


Analysis of individual-level data from the Household, Income, Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey finds the average self-reported mental health score of females aged 15 to 24 declined from 73 per cent to 62 per cent between 2011 and 2022, a drop of 11 percentage points. 


The mental health of young men declined from 74.5 per cent down to 67.5 per cent, a 7 percentage point drop.


Instagram launched in 2010 and Snapchat in 2011, both becoming widely popular in the following years. Stories were introduced on Snapchat in 2012 and Instagram in 2013. 


“Our research finds that youth mental health was stable but then began falling sharply after 2012 which coincides with the time when photo and video-sharing social media platforms became widely popular,” said Gianni La Cava, e61 Research Director.  


“While more data and research are needed to say that social media is causing declining mental health among young Australians, the coincident timing of the decline suggests there is a link.


“We find that young women born since the late 1990s (Generation Z) – who use social media more than any other group – have strikingly lower mental health than older women and all men.


“This fits existing data showing they experience higher rates of mental health disorders, greater need for help from mental health professionals and increasing rates of mental health-related hospitalisations.”


Ninety per cent of women aged 15 to 24 use social media every day or most days compared to 75 per cent of young men, 62 per cent of women over 25 and 46 per cent of men over 25.


The e61 research also finds rates of social isolation among young people have been increasing since 2012 after a stable period and are again worse among young women.


The Friendship Index score for young women declined from around 0.97 to 0.12 from 2011 to 2022, while the score for young men dropped from 1.08 to around 0.45. The Friendship Index measures the extent to which respondents agree or disagree with the statement: ‘I seem to have a lot of friends’.


“We find that lower mental health is highly correlated with self-reported feelings of social isolation as measured through friendship connections,” said Dr La Cava. 


Between 2011 and 2022 mental health also declined for adults over 25, but to a lesser extent than for youth. The average mental health of women aged 25-64 declined from 73.5 per cent to 70 per cent while the figure for men of that age dropped from 75 per cent to 72.5 per cent.


Key findings:

  • Average self-reported mental health has been falling since the early 2010s for women and girls aged 15 to 24, with a more gradual decline taking place for their male counterparts.
  • Women and girls born since the late 1990s report much lower levels of both mental health and friendship connections than others.
  • The decline in self-reported mental health since the early 2010s is strongly linked to when an individual was born and how lonely they feel. 


Notes to editors: e61 Institute is a non-partisan think tank led by former productivity commissioner Michael Brennan.

Contact details:

Charlie Moore: 0452 606 171

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