Shirley Cramer, Chief Executive, Royal Society of Public Health (RSPH) commented: "This important new research confirms that we need to increase awareness and understanding amongst parents, schools and policy makers about the role of social media in our young people's mental health, particularly taking into account the increased risks for girls".
For the study, the team interviewed nearly 11,000 girls, who are 14-year-old. When it comes to body image and self-esteem, more girls were affected but the researchers noted that the gap was not as significant. For example: "more social media use linked to poor sleep which in turn was related to depressive symptoms; experiencing online harassment was linked to poor sleep, poor body image and low self-esteem; and that girls and boys with poor body image were more likely to have low self-esteem".
It found that two in five girls are on social media at least three hours a day compared to a fifth of their male peers. Only 4% of girls reported not using social media compared to 10% of boys.
"Their use of platforms like Instagram and Snapchat can also undermine children's view of themselves by making them feel inferior to the people they follow", she added. For girls, greater daily hours of social media use corresponded to a stepwise increase in depressive symptoms.
Girls were also more likely to have experience of online harassment or cyber bullying and get less quality sleep because of extra time spent online.
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The researchers "still can not definitely say that social media use causes poor mental health, although the evidence is starting to point in that direction", The Guardian quoted Wessely as saying.
"For boys, higher depressive symptom scores were seen among those reporting three or more hours of daily social media use".
Doctors say that excessive social media usage affects social relationships and participation in community life. These asked about their social media use and assessed their mental health. These adolescents often sleep with their phones by their bedside and are woken up by the social media alerts.
The study also found that 12 per cent of light social media users and 38 per cent of heavy social media users (five-plus hours a day) showed signs of having more severe depression.
"The sad truth is that people mostly share the positive things about life on social media, without showing the negatives".