Some 69.7 percent of students in the UAE use social media for five hours or more every day, according to a study conducted by a team of students from the Canadian University Dubai.
The wide-ranging study into the impact of social media on the youth in the region, which aimed to raise awareness over mental health and wellbeing, culminated in a debate addressing the question, "Prevalence of Mental Health Disorders in the Youth: to What Extent is Social Media to Blame?"
In addition to social media, the research, conducted as part of the Bachelor of Communications course on Media Impact, cited a range of developmental and societal factors that can affect a young person’s mental health, concluding that deeper studies are required to consider these broader contexts.
Gaia Cianci, a second-year Public Relations student who compiled the final project report said, "Through the research, I concluded that social media can be a factor in mental health disorders; therefore, it is important to control its usage and not to rely on social networks to share every aspect of our lives."
Addressing the other side of the debate, third-year Public Relations student, Fatma Ali, said, "In my own experience, I consider social media to be essential; I rely on it not only for entertainment but also for career-related functions. However, the research and the debate were an eye-opener to me. Nevertheless, personally, I am fully aware of the possible negative impact social media might have on mental health, and with that awareness, comes guarding myself against that impact."
Third-year Public Relations student, Leslie Ogundkun, summed up the experience of many young people, saying, "Its impact on my life has been a mixture of the positive and negative."
Bringing the debate to a conclusion, Ali said, "Research gains more value when conducted over long periods of time, and social media has not matured enough to directly link it to mental health disorders."
The research was supervised by Professor, Ode Amaize, from the Faculty of Communication, Arts and Sciences, who said, "While it is important for Communication and Media students to be aware of prominent theories of the effects of the media, including computer-mediated ones, these theories are better understood and internalised through pedagogic praxes. Interestingly, as noted in some of the opposing arguments, we learn of developmental, socio-economic contexts, and cultural factors, besides the use of social media, that explain the prevalence of mental health disorders among the youth."