Should Social Media Addiction be Called a Disease?

MPs have recently been in discussions to decide whether social media addiction should be classified as a disease. It comes after a long uproar of people claiming social media is affecting children’s mental health and a further recent report undertaken by the government suggesting the same.


In November 2017 14-year-old Molly Russell took her own life with her parents claiming that Instagram ‘helped kill’ their daughter. This case has been hugely influential in getting social media sites such as Instagram to ban any images that relate to self-harm. But is this enough?

MPs spoke stating “It is paramount that we protect young people to ensure they are kept safe and healthy when they are online,”. They are pushing for longer term studies to take place to determine whether a clinical definition for social media addiction should be created and a 0.5% levy from social media networks’ profits to fund this research. The report also calls on the UK government to issue a formal health guidance to those under the age of 24 on how to avoid excessive social media usage.

“a clinical definition for social media addiction should be created”


The World Health Organisation has also suggested counting gaming addiction as a disorder in its next revision of its International Classification of Diseases manual. This is defined as when gaming begins to take over a person’s life so much so that it becomes obsessive and impinges on their normal life. It is understood the social media addiction would fall under a similar category.

When I asked students how they felt about the classification, the response was surprisingly mixed; 43% said that social media addiction should be counted as a disease with 57% voting that it shouldn’t.

“gaming… take over a person’s life …becomes obsessive and impinges on their normal life”


Social media addiction to me is not a disease, but rather a disorder which can be either a symptom or a cause of mental health problems. Alcohol addiction is a medical problem but by calling it a disease it suggests a different course of treatment. They are all forms of addiction, and addiction to anything can be harmful but usually comes hand in hand with mental health issues. Classification by these simple change in words may not seem much but it changes in significance, for me a disorder would be more fitting. MPs calling it a disease has seriously different connotations.

“seriously different connotations”


I think the problem with social media is that it is so accessible and maybe disease is the wrong word for it, but it is undeniable that social media can have a negative impact on self-esteem, body image and confidence all of which can lead to mental health issues. As technology becomes ever more accessible, it wouldn’t be surprising to see more cases of health problems caused by social media.


Miriam Thompson

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Featured image courtesy of Sean MacEntee via Flickr. No changes were made to this image. Image license found here.


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