Online mental health support for young people played critical role in lockdown

Insight SFI Centre study shows 18-24-year-olds turned to social media, apps for practical help
Image: Tim Gouw

19 January 2022

Young people turned to social media for mental health support during lockdown, survey results from the Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics at UCD have revealed.

The survey of 400 people between the ages of 18 and 25 showed that as young people reported growing mental health distress in the 2021 lockdown, they also accessed practical help through dedicated mental health accounts on social media as well as apps and free services from charity groups such as Jigsaw and

Just as in-person mental health services shuttered worldwide, there were significant increases in depression and anxiety in the young.




Last month the US Surgeon General issued an advisory on what he described as ‘the youth mental health crisis during the pandemic’. Dr Murthy referred to research covering 80,000 youth globally, which found that depressive and anxiety symptoms doubled during the pandemic. Many Irish mental health services reported a surge in referrals of young people last year.

Dr Claudette Pretorius, co-lead on the study, believes that we can learn from the experiences of young people and use social media alongside traditional services to support the young with their mental health needs.

More than half of participants said they were using social media as a source of mental health support. Different social media platforms were used for different purposes. Facebook was a source of support groups. Instagram was used to engage with influencers who focused on mental health issues.

A third claimed to use mental health apps; the most commonly used was the Headspace app with 16.5%. They also used Calm Harm, Moodpath, #selfcare, Woebot and Youper.

A quarter made use of formal online resources such as charities (26%) or professional counselling services (13.2%). The most accessed resource was a charity organisation called SpunOut (13.2%), followed by the HSE (10.4%). Other services used included the NHS, BodyWhys,,,, BetterHelp and 7Cups.

Messaging applications were the most popular, with 71.0% of respondents indicating that they had used a messaging application such as Whatsapp or Snapchat, sometimes as tools to contact a mental health professional for the purposes of therapy or counselling. Other commonly used applications in this category included Zoom and the direct messaging function on Instagram.

 “The purpose of the study was to get a better picture of what works for young people, so that services online can be enhanced,” said Dr Pretorius.  “We asked respondents to describe what worked for them. Interpersonal connection was strong theme. It was important that an online resource provided an experience where the participant could feel connected to another, whether that be a professional or peer. It was also important that young people had an empathic experience through these interpersonal interactions, that they felt heard and understood as opposed to receiving generic responses or being sign-posted somewhere else.

“A quarter (26%) of respondents reported using formal services from charities or health services. ‘These services are free so the numbers seem low. This is likely due to a lack of awareness. It appears that for some of the respondents this was the first time they had had the need to use online mental health supports and it is evident that they were pleasantly surprised. There is a strong argument for advertising these services more widely in the community and in our schools and colleges.”

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