Get Regular Updates!
|Why Instagram might be affecting your mental health (and what you can do about it)



University of Notre Dame

Why Instagram might be affecting your mental health (and what you can do about it)

Why Instagram might be affecting your mental health (and what you can do about it)

New research out of Notre Dame is digging into why social media isn’t always good for us, especially if you’re young and female.

Why Instagram might be affecting your mental health (and what you can do about it)

Working as an educator, Carmen Papaluca observed a worrying trend with her students.

“I was noticing how big of an impact social media was having on my students … across their whole lives,” she told me.

In particular, social media was having a significant negative impact on her students’ mental health.

For anyone who is a regular user of social media (which is most of us these days), this won’t come as a surprise. With everyone sharing their ‘highlight reels’, Carmen observed, young women find it particularly hard to see their own lives or even their own bodies as good enough.

And this included Carmen herself. She was alarmed that “even me, as an educated person” would be susceptible.

Carmen also worked alongside counsellors in the student services department to provide support. “I literally had a line out the door of students who were having issues with social media.”

View Larger
Image|Photo by Josh Rose on Unsplash
Instagram might be full of smiling faces but it could be detrimental, particularly to the mental health of young women

Doctor of social media

Wanting to understand more about the issue and what could be done, Carmen began a PhD at the University of Notre Dame. The focus of her research is Instagram use among young women aged 18 to 25.

One of the key findings of her work so far is that younger female Instagram users in her study (late teens and early 20s) found that images on the app made them feel most badly about their bodies.

However, women who were slightly older (mid-20s) felt the inadequacy around their work and lifestyle. In comparison to the images of the apparently fabulous social lives and careers of others on Instagram, they felt that their own lives “lacked meaning”.

View Larger
Image|Essena O’Neill Instagram
‘Instafamous’ Essena O’Neill made headlines in 2015 when she quit social media due to its fake nature

Technology or culture?

Often, the blame of the perceived problems with new technologies gets put entirely on those new technologies. But if we want to find a real solution to these problems, we need to dig a bit deeper.

“There has always been a medium transmitting these pressures,” Carmen told me. “The thing that is scary about social media is that it’s accessible all day, every day, and from anywhere for as long as you like.”

In other words, it’s not just Instagram that is the problem. It’s the social pressures put on young women that have been part of our culture for many years that are now becoming amplified by social media. It’s not just beauty magazines, now it’s all your friends.

And, Carmen added, “Things like popularity used to be abstract … [thanks to social media,] now there’s a tangible measurement.” How many friends do you have? How many likes did your most recent photo get?

View Larger
Social pressures on women used to come from mediums like beauty magazines. With social media, those pressures are coming from all directions, even from your own friends.

Towards a solution

“Often, parents and educators will take the stance that the solution is to simply not use it,” Carmen told me. This is like telling someone not to use the phone. And, she added, “If it’s not Instagram, it will be something else.”

The real solution, Carmen argues, lies in building resilience and self-esteem. “At least if they are feeling good about themselves, they won’t compare so much and take it so personally.”

The other piece lies in gratitude. Often, we forget how good our lives actually are. As Carmen’s research suggests, social media certainly doesn’t help this either.

Happily, the science does seem to indicate that gratitude is actually a key factor in happiness.

So here’s a new year’s resolution for you: start a gratitude jar (for yourself or with a young person in your life). It might make you feel a whole lot better the next time you open Facebook or Instagram.

Particle Puns


Creative Commons Logo

Republishing our content

We want our stories to be shared and seen by as many people as possible.

Therefore, unless it says otherwise, copyright on the stories on Particle belongs to Scitech and they are published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

This allows you to republish our articles online or in print for free. You just need to credit us and link to us, and you can’t edit our material or sell it separately.

Using the ‘republish’ button on our website is the easiest way to meet our guidelines.


You cannot edit the article.

When republishing, you have to credit our authors, ideally in the byline. You have to credit Particle with a link back to the original publication on Particle.

If you’re republishing online, you must use our pageview counter, link to us and include links from our story. Our page view counter is a small pixel-ping (invisible to the eye) that allows us to know when our content is republished. It’s a condition of our guidelines that you include our counter. If you use the ‘republish’ then you’ll capture our page counter.

If you’re republishing in print, please email us to let us so we know about it (we get very proud to see our work republished) and you must include the Particle logo next to the credits. Download logo here.

If you wish to republish all our stories, please contact us directly to discuss this opportunity.


Most of the images used on Particle are copyright of the photographer who made them.

It is your responsibility to confirm that you’re licensed to republish images in our articles.


All Particle videos can be accessed through YouTube under the Standard YouTube Licence.

The Standard YouTube licence

  1. This licence is ‘All Rights Reserved’, granting provisions for YouTube to display the content, and YouTube’s visitors to stream the content. This means that the content may be streamed from YouTube but specifically forbids downloading, adaptation, and redistribution, except where otherwise licensed. When uploading your content to YouTube it will automatically use the Standard YouTube licence. You can check this by clicking on Advanced Settings and looking at the dropdown box ‘License and rights ownership’.
  2. When a user is uploading a video he has license options that he can choose from. The first option is “standard YouTube License” which means that you grant the broadcasting rights to YouTube. This essentially means that your video can only be accessed from YouTube for watching purpose and cannot be reproduced or distributed in any other form without your consent.


For more information about using our content, email us:

Copy this HTML into your CMS
Press Ctrl+C to copy

We've got chemistry. Want something physical?