Recent research has shed light on the concerning relationship between frequent use of YouTube and heightened levels of loneliness, anxiety, and depression, particularly among individuals under the age of 29 who consume content focused on the lives of others. As a result, experts are urging individuals to limit their YouTube viewing time, explore alternative forms of social interaction, and advocate for algorithmic improvements to direct users toward verified positive mental health content.
The Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention (AISRAP) conducted a study that suggests regular YouTube users are more susceptible to increased feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression. Leading the investigation were Dr. Luke Balcombe and Emeritus Professor Diego De Leo from Griffith University’s School of Applied Psychology and AISRAP. Their objective was to comprehensively examine the beneficial and detrimental effects of the world’s most popular streaming platform on individuals’ mental well-being.
The study found that the negative impact was most pronounced among individuals below the age of 29 who frequently consumed content centered around other people’s lives. Dr. Luke Balcombe, the lead author, acknowledged that the development of parasocial relationships between content creators and their followers could be a cause for concern. However, he also noted that some instances existed where creators fostered neutral or positive relationships with their audience.
Dr. Balcombe stated, “These online ‘relationships’ can fill a gap for individuals with social anxiety, but they can exacerbate their issues when face-to-face interactions, which are especially crucial during formative years, are neglected.”
To combat loneliness and promote positive mental health, the researchers recommend that individuals limit their YouTube usage and actively seek out alternative forms of social interaction.
Dr. Balcombe further highlighted that the amount of time spent on YouTube often worries parents who struggle to monitor their children’s usage of the platform for educational or other purposes. In the study, high-frequency use was defined as consuming over two hours of YouTube content per day, while saturated use was classified as more than five hours per day.
The investigation also emphasized the need to prevent algorithm-based recommendations from promoting content related to suicide. While the ideal scenario would involve preventing users from searching for such topics and being exposed to harmful methods, the current YouTube algorithm often suggests content based on previous searches, leading users down disturbing paths.
Although users can report this type of content, it may go unreported for several days or weeks due to its sheer volume, making it nearly impossible for YouTube’s algorithms to catch every instance.
Dr. Balcombe suggested that artificial intelligence (AI) could play a role in monitoring and intervening with vulnerable children and adolescents who engage in high-frequency YouTube use. He proposed the development of an independent algorithmic recommendation system that guides users toward verified positive mental health content or resources.
He explained, “We have explored issues related to human-computer interaction and put forward a concept for an algorithmic recommendation system that operates independently of YouTube, steering users toward verified positive mental health content or promotions.”
YouTube is increasingly being utilized for mental health purposes, mainly for seeking or sharing information. However, with over 10,000 mental health apps currently available, it can be overwhelming for individuals, including practitioners, to determine which ones are reliable. Dr. Balcombe highlighted the necessity for verified mental health or suicide prevention tools based on a combination of AI-based machine learning, risk modeling, and input from qualified experts. By collaborating with mental health and suicide prevention specialists to validate information generated by AI, digital mental health interventions could present a promising solution to address the growing unmet mental health needs.
Reference: “The Impact of YouTube on Loneliness and Mental Health” by Luke Balcombe and Diego De Leo, 20 April 2023, Informatics. DOI: 10.3390/informatics10020039
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about YouTube and Mental Health
What did the research reveal about the impact of excessive YouTube use on mental health?
The research found that frequent YouTube use is linked to increased levels of loneliness, anxiety, and depression, particularly among users under 29 years old who watch content about others’ lives.
What recommendations were made based on the research findings?
The recommendations include limiting YouTube viewing time, encouraging other forms of social interaction, and improving algorithmic systems to guide users toward verified positive mental health content.
Who conducted the research?
The research was conducted by the Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention (AISRAP) and led by Dr. Luke Balcombe and Emeritus Professor Diego De Leo from Griffith University’s School of Applied Psychology and AISRAP.
Which age group was found to be most negatively affected by excessive YouTube use?
The study revealed that individuals under the age of 29 were the most negatively affected by excessive YouTube use, especially those who regularly watched content about other people’s lives.
Parasocial relationships refer to the one-sided relationships that viewers form with content creators on YouTube. While some neutral or positive instances exist, these relationships can be a cause for concern as they may exacerbate issues, particularly for individuals with social anxiety, when face-to-face interactions are neglected.
How can YouTube improve its recommendation system to promote positive mental health content?
The research suggests developing an independent algorithmic recommendation system that guides users toward verified positive mental health content or promotions. This system would help steer users away from harmful or negative content.
Is there a need for monitoring and intervention through artificial intelligence?
Yes, the research highlights the potential value of using artificial intelligence (AI) for monitoring and intervening with vulnerable children and adolescents who engage in high-frequency YouTube use. AI could play a role in identifying and addressing mental health concerns in these individuals.
What is the gap in current digital mental health interventions?
The study emphasizes the need for verified mental health or suicide prevention tools based on a mix of AI-based machine learning, risk modeling, and input from qualified experts. The gap lies in providing reliable and recommended mental health resources among the vast number of available apps and interventions.
More about YouTube and Mental Health
- Study: “The Impact of YouTube on Loneliness and Mental Health” (DOI: 10.3390/informatics10020039)
- Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention (AISRAP): Website
- Griffith University: School of Applied Psychology