Pupils with mental health disorders spend more time online

Nearly 30 per cent of 11- to 19-year-olds with mental health problems spend more than four hours on social media per day

Caroline Henshaw


Students with mental health disorders tend to spend more than twice as much time on social media as their peers, according to research by the NHS.

A major new survey, published today, shows that youth mental health problems have grown over the past 20 years to the extent that three children in every classroom are now likely to have a disorder.

The study of more than 9,000 students from across England also found a strong link between social media use, cyberbullying and conditions such as anxiety and depression.

Two-thirds of 11- to 19-year-olds without a mental health disorder who were asked said they spent up to two hours per day on social media.

By contrast, more than half of those with a disorder spent more than two hours per day using social networks, including nearly 30 per cent who said they spent more than four hours. 

Pupils with disorders were more likely to feel the negative effects of social media, including feeling compelled to compare themselves to others and not being honest about their feelings.

Students with mental health disorders were also more than twice as likely to both be cyberbullied and bully others online, compared with their peers.

“We collected data on social media and found that 11- to 19-year-olds with a mental disorder spend more time on social media,” said Katharine Sadler, research director at the NatCen centre for social research.

“We found that a higher proportion with a mental disorder spend more than four hours on social media on a typical school day, compared with those without a disorder."

Concerns about social media use and cyberbullying have been growing as more and more young people spend time online.

An Education Policy Institute report last year revealed that 95 per cent of 15-year-olds in the UK used social media before or after school, and half of 9- to 16-year-olds used smartphones on a daily basis.

England’s children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, has called on schools to take the lead in curbing social media use, including by banning smartphones.

"Research is very thin in terms of what role social media plays" in young people's mental health, said Jess Deighton, associate professor of the evidence-based practice unit at children’s mental health charity, the Anna Freud centre.

"[There are] definitely issues around unrealistic body image and cyberbullying. But we also know young people use social media as a source of support as well."

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Caroline Henshaw

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