Social media can lead to 'downward spiral' for heavy teen users - NZ health expert

Social-media use is having a direct impact on the health of teenagers, new research has found.

The US-based study has found a direct link between screen time and mental health, with heavy users more likely to develop depression, aggression, and becoming bullies.

"It looks like social media is often a mood enhancer, so if you're a little bit up and you're quite positive it might bring you up more, whereas if you're a little bit down and you're feeling unpopular and no one likes what you're saying or people are bullying you, it can lead to a downward spiral," says Dr Terry Fleming, of Victoria University's Faculty of Health.

More than 6500 adolescents, aged 12 to 15, were involved in the US-based research, and even after taking into account existing mental-health problems teens who used social media for at least three hours a day were found to be 60 percent more likely to develop issues such as depression, anxiety, loneliness and aggressive behaviour.

Those who spent six or more hours online increased their risk by 78 percent. 

And while three hours might seem like a lot - a third of the teens involved in this research were on social media for between 30 minutes and three hours each day, and just over 12 percent were using it for between three and six hours daily. 

"The great thing in New Zealand is that we're under the three hours in terms of our average usage of social media, on average we're spending one hour and 43 minutes every day on these channels," says social media expert Jessica Moloney.

But with 3.4 million Kiwis logging onto social media minutes each day, tapping into your screen-time records could prove to be the most crucial screen time of all.