Jealousy, How Social-Media is Affecting the Mental Health of American Youth

By Zach Yorke, MS2
Eastern Virginia Medical School

“I kinda want to throw my phone across the room, ‘Cause all I see are girls too good to be true with paper-white teeth and perfect bodies”, Olivia Rodrigo sings in “Jealousy, Jealousy”. Ms. Rodrigo has surged to the forefront of pop culture for her poignant lyricism highlighting age-old coming of age struggles in the context of the social media age. Her song talks about the toxicity of social media, its addictiveness and the obsession for the perfect life. Its popularity may, in part, be due to the number of people that relate to this message. So how exactly is social media affecting American youth and their mental health?

Social media is omnipresent. In 2021 there were reportedly 4.48 billion social media users around the world.1 Here in the U.S. 72% of American adults use some form of social media.2 In 2018 the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry surveyed 13–17-year olds and found 90% of them have used social media.3 These numbers are only growing and show no sign of regressing. This prompts a lot of research questions on the impact of social media use, but it also prompts a lot of confounding variables. Did social media cause mental health symptoms or did teenagers struggling with mental health symptoms join social media like the rest of their peers?

The mental health effects of social media continue to be highly contentious. Nevertheless, Americans fear its effects. A 2019 American Psychiatric Association poll found 38% of adults see social media usage as harmful. While social media has always been touted as connecting people, the same poll found that 67% of adults agree social media usage is related to feelings of loneliness and isolation. Above all, however, everyone is fearful of its impacts on kids/teens with 88% of adults expressing this belief.4  These fears have prompted research, but the study of social media is quite young. While more work needs to be completed to gain a better understanding of the effects of social media on mental health, there has been a growing body of studies exploring the relationship.

Parent groups, mental health providers, and policymakers generally stress the risks of excessive time spent on social media, however, current research shows risks are more complicated than just the length of time spent. While longitudinal studies have shown positive associations with internalized mental health problems in teens who spend more than 3 hours a day on social media, how they spend their time on social media is a greater predictor of negative mental health outcomes.5,6 For example, passive social media usage (viewing but not posting/contributing) has widely been associated with depressive symptoms in adolescents, while active usage has no such associations.7 The social media platform they use also influences mental health outcomes. Image-based social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat and to some extent, Facebook, have all been associated with negative mental health outcomes greater than that of platforms like video-based YouTube or text-based Twitter.8 Instagram has proven to be especially harmful to teen girls.

The “Facebook Files” are a series of Facebook internal documents that demonstrate the company (the owner of Instagram) has been aware Instagram has been harmful to teen girls. The story broke via the Wall Street Journal and reveals three years of internal Facebook studies into the mental health effects of Instagram on young users. These studies concluded the significant effect Instagram has on the mental health of teen girls, which they later downplayed publicly. These files show that one in three teen girls using Instagram had their body image issues worsened and that 6% of teens with suicidal ideation directly attributed these thoughts to Instagram.9 It is not surprising that greed would silence information that would jeopardize profits, but it is illuminating information on the mental effects of the most popular social media platform among young people. Every social media platform has the potential to disseminate hate, bullying, political polarization, but Instagram supports content that harms teens within the confines of their terms of agreement.

Instagram and other social media platforms aren’t going anywhere. Any form of social media can be detrimental to mental health. It also has the potential to be beneficial. For those living with mental illness, social media can provide an opportunity to connect with others dealing with similar issues. Collaboration, communication, and the deconstruction of stigma are all ways social media can improve the lives of those living with mental illness. Going forward, I do believe we need a more robust safety campaign for social media usage. For now, however, we need to be aware of the dangers we have discovered and be able to counsel our friends, children, patients, etc. on how to best protect themselves from the harmful sides of social media.


  1. Dean, B. (2021, October 10). Social Network Usage & Growth Statistics: How Many People Use Social Media in 2021? Backlinko. Retrieved November 5, 2021, from
  2. Pew Research Center. (2021, April 26). Demographics of Social Media Users and Adoption in the United States. Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. Retrieved November 5, 2021, from
  3. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. (2018, March). Social Media and Teens. AACAP: Social Media and Teens. Retrieved November 5, 2021, from
  4. American Psychiatric Association. (2019, May 20). APA Public Opinion Poll – Annual Meeting 2019. APA Public Opinion Poll – Annual Meeting 2018. Retrieved November 5, 2021, from
  5. Karim, F., Oyewande, A. A., Abdalla, L. F., Chaudhry Ehsanullah, R., & Khan, S. (2020). Social Media Use and Its Connection to Mental Health: A Systematic Review. Cureus12(6), e8627.
  6. Riehm KE, Feder KA, Tormohlen KN, et al. Associations Between Time Spent Using Social Media and Internalizing and Externalizing Problems Among US Youth. JAMA Psychiatry. 2019;76(12):1266–1273. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2019.2325
  7. César G. Escobar-Viera, Ariel Shensa, Nicholas D. Bowman, Jaime E. Sidani, Jennifer Knight, A. Everette James, and Brian A. Primack.Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.Jul 2018.437-443.
  8. Cramer, S., & Instar, B. (2017, May). #StatusOfMind: Social Media and Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing. YoungHealthMovement RSPH. Retrieved November 5, 2021, from
  9. Wells, G., Horwitz, J., & Seetharaman, D. (2021, September 14). Facebook Knows Instagram Is Toxic for Teen Girls, Company Documents Show. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved November 5, 2021, from
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