Surgeon General issues mental health advisory for teens, social media

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, issued a warning about social media's effects on mental health in adolescents, according to a May 23 news release.

An estimated 95 percent of teens aged 13-17 are on social media, as are 40 percent of those aged 8-12, Dr. Murthy said in the advisory. A survey found teens spend an average of 3.5 hours per day on social media, and those spending more than three hours per day on social media are twice as likely to experience depression and anxiety.

Social media may lay addictive pathways in the brain during a "highly sensitive" period of development, according to the advisory.

More than a third of 13-17 year olds say they use social media "almost constantly," according to the advisory. At least one-third of girls aged 11-15 reported feeling "addicted" to some platforms.

However, 58 percent of adolescents say social media helps them feel more accepted, and 80 percent say it helps them stay connected with their friends, the advisory said. Social media may also support the well-being of youth of color and those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer by providing positive or identity-affirming content and peer support.

Dr. Murthy recommended kids themselves adopt healthier practices online, including blocking distressing content and speaking up and reaching out to someone else if they see bullying or harassment online. He also called for policymakers to "strengthen safety standards and limit access," encouraged researchers to prioritize youth mental health, and asked tech companies to "more transparently assess the impact of their products on children."

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