The Current

Social media can be a 'toxic space' for young people, says woman who took 2-year hiatus

A new study looks at how social media is affecting teenagers' mental health. We talk to two young people about how they use those platforms, and what they do to manage the potentially harmful effects.

New study links social media to depression in the young

Researchers analyzed survey data from almost 4,000 teens over the span of four years and found higher levels of symptoms of depression, the more participants used social media. (Shutterstock)

Read Story Transcript

A young woman who took a two-year hiatus from social media says she isn't surprised by a study that links such screen time to depression in youth.

"It can be fairly easy for social media to become a toxic space, just because we're constantly inundated with so much content that it becomes overwhelming," said Asiya Barakzai, a 22-year-old studying political science at Western University.

The study from researchers at the University of Montreal showed links between social media use and symptoms of depression. The researchers analyzed survey data from almost 4,000 teens over the span of four years. They found higher levels of depression symptoms — like sadness, hopelessness and even suicidal thoughts — the more participants used social media.

Before deleting her accounts, Barakzai said she felt a "constant fear of judgment," and was exposed to content that promoted "highly unrealistic beauty standards, and these over-the-top extravagant lifestyles that are put out by beauty gurus and influencers."

"I realized ... it's time for me to take a break, and especially rethink all of these toxic behaviours, and just readjust myself."

Social media platforms can create a culture where kids are constantly comparing themselves to impossible standards, Asiya Barakzai said. (Thomas White/Reuters)

After a couple of years off, she returned to social media, but now places an emphasis on following accounts that promote body positivity and inspiration. She also limits the time she spends on social media to two to three hours a day.

To discuss how young people use social media, and what they do to manage the potentially harmful effects, The Current's guest host David Common spoke to: 

  • Asiya Barakzai, who is 22 and studying political science at Western University. She deleted all social media for two years. 
  • Arjun Ram, 13-year-old student and contributor to CBC Kids News.

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Adam Killick, Julie Crysler, Rachel Levy-McLaughlin, Aruna Dutt.


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