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Why social media is driving youth bonkers

As world marks World  Mental  Health Day, focus is on young people and how technology and other factors impact on their mental health

Evelyn Makena @evemake_g

Today Kenya joins the world in marking this year’s World Mental Health Day. This year’s event marked under the theme  Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World is aimed at highlighting the effects of growing online technologies on mental health of adolescents and teenagers.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), 50 per cent of all mental health cases begin by the age of 14 due to the dynamics of transitioning to adulthood with, social media pressures seen as a factor that could further trigger the illness.

Damaging effect

Numerous studies have established the connection between social media and the damaging effects on mental health of young people. A survey conducted by Royal Society for Public health last year established that four out of five commonly used social media platforms by young people had the effect of aggravating body image issues, feelings of anxiety, sleep problems, depression, fear of missing out, loneliness and bullying. Out of the five social media platforms including You Tube, Facebook, Snapchat,  Twitter and Instagram had the most damaging effects on young people.

Dr Pius Kigamwa, Consultant Psychiatrist, Nairobi Hospital partly attributes the increase in mental health cases in this age to curiosity and experimentation.

“Most young people make their debut into substance abuse at this age, a factor that is big trigger to mental health,” he says. Another factor contributing to mental illnesses among young people is genetics.  According to Dr Pius, social media platforms give young people to a wide range of information both good and bad. 

“There is glorification of substance abuse by people the youths consider as role-models such as musicians and access to pornographic material. Drug abuse is a big factor contributing to mental health. Cyber-bullying is rampant on social media deflating the self-esteem of young people affected,” he says.

An acknowledgement by Facebook last year on the negative impact the platform can have on its users mental health further goes to cement the fact that the pressures of online connectivity are taking a toll on mental health.

Researchers of the social media platform through a blog post indicated that there was an increase in teen depression connected to technology use. According to the researchers,  users who spent a lot of time on social media platforms reading information and not interacting with people physically  reported feeling worse afterward as this led to negative social comparison.


Common mental health issues among young people include depression, suicide, and anxiety. Suicide is ranked by World Health Organisation as the second biggest cause of death among 15-29 year olds. Up to 800,000 people die from suicides every year accounting for 1.4  per cent deaths worldwide. 

Experts say that building mental resilience is one of the ways young people can cope with the present challenges.  “Children need to be given the right nutrition before and after they are born to build strong brains that can withstand challenges later in life. Young people can avoid traumatising situations such as conflict at home and substance abuse as much as possible,” he said.

Early detection of mental health issues among young people can help avert the damage that comes when the illness spurns out of control, says Pius. 

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