Teenage girls are twice as likely to show symptoms of depression linked to social media use as boys, according to new research.
An extensive study by UCL researchers found that girls both spent more time on social media and were more vulnerable to its negative impacts.
At 14, two-fifths of girls reported using networks like Facebook, Snapchat or Twitter for three or more hours a day, compared with one-fifth of boys.
Four out of 10 girls said they had been harassed and bullied online, compared with around a quarter of boys at the same age.
Similar proportions of 14-year-olds reported losing sleep because of this, which researchers said leaves girls more prone to depression as a result.
Mental health fears over social media use
Overall, the study found that young people who used social media for five hours a day or more were three times more likely to show symptoms of severe depression than “light” users.
“The link between social media use and depressive symptoms was stronger for girls compared with boys,’’ said Professor Yvonne Kelly, from the UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care.
“For girls, greater daily hours of social media use corresponded to a stepwise increase in depressive symptoms.
“For boys, higher depressive symptom scores were seen among those reporting three or more hours of daily social media use.”
The UCL research, based on data from almost 11,000 young people, adds to a growing amount of information about links between social media and mental health.
A major new NHS study published in November showed that mental health problems have been growing England’s schools over the past 20 years.
Like those at UCL, the researchers found that students with mental health disorders tend to spend more than twice as much time on social media as their peers.
England’s children’s commissioner has called on schools to take the lead on curbing students’ use of social media by limiting time online.
The government has also proposed new regulations for social media platforms due to growing concerns about online harm, such as child abuse, bullying, fake news and internet addiction.