Teen study monitoring how social media affects mental health is so vital

There are bound to be teenagers who would welcome taking part in a new nationwide study to track feelings of loneliness in this digital age of smartphones and social media.

If so, they should visit the website gslonelinessteens.com. Teenagers aged 12 to 15 are being invited to take part in research to track their mental health alongside their social interactions. The findings will help to uncover how online communication and the influence of the digital world affects mental health in young people.

The University of Edinburgh study, part of the Generation Scotland project, will recruit 200 teens north of the border to record their emotions and any associated social interactions – both online and offline – over two weeks via a smartphone app. It aims to capture the impact of interactions on social media platforms such as Snapchat, TikTok and ­Instagram, which play an increasingly significant role in the social lives of young people.

Many teenagers report engaging online as beneficial for their mental health and wellbeing, despite previous research indicating that online interactions may not offer the same opportunities for emotional and social growth as personal interactions. The young volunteers will be prompted to input information at various points during the day, providing real-time evidence on the experiences of loneliness for young people.

Professor Heather Whalley, chief scientist for Generation Scotland at the University of Edinburgh says: “Adolescence is a period of huge physical, social, cognitive and emotional change. As the brain is changing a lot at this age, it can be viewed as a window of opportunity to potentially avoid the development of mental health conditions. We need more young people to join longitudinal studies such as Generation Scotland in order to support the mental health of young people now and into the future.”

The study was co-developed with a group of 10 teen advisers. The team hopes to encourage more young people to take part and help shape health research for current and future generations.

Sarah Robertson, youth engagement lead for Generation Scotland, adds: “In order to effect real change, we need to give young people a platform to amplify their voices. Young people are not just the future – their health and wellbeing matters now and we need to work with them to find solutions to the mental health crisis our society is facing.”