Effort Advances Biden-Harris Aim to Make Social Media Platforms Safer for Children and Youth
Building on President Biden’s Unity Agenda priority to tackle our nation’s mental health crisis, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), is announcing $2 million in funding to establish a national center of excellence (CoE) on social media and mental wellness. The purpose of the CoE will be to develop and disseminate information, guidance, and training on the impact—including benefits and risks—that social media use has on children and youth, especially the risks to their mental health. This CoE will also examine clinical and social interventions that can be used to mitigate the risks. Social media use can be associated with negative mental health outcomes, and children and youth are particularly vulnerable.
“In the past decade , the number of children and youth diagnosed with mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, has significantly increased, concurrent with significant increases in the amount of time children and youth are spending on social media,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “While there are benefits to social media use, there are clearly risks, too – especially when it comes to mental health. This new center will help us better protect children and youth from these harms.”
“We are concerned for the mental health of our children and youth,” said Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, Ph.D., HHS Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use and the leader of SAMHSA. “We know from research that some social media can be harmful to children’s and youths’ mental well-being. We expect this new Center will highlight best practices and guide us in protecting young people.”
As stated in the U.S. Surgeon General’s advisory on protecting youth mental health (PDF | 1 MB), there is a wide range of causes for the national youth mental health crisis but there is mounting evidence (PDF | 1 MB) that social media is harmful to many kids’ and teens’ mental health, well-being, and development. Social media platforms are privately owned and are driven by algorithms to maximize user engagement. Therefore, they can and do expose young people to content that may not be appropriate; can promote unhealthy social comparisons; and can enable harassment, stalking and cyber bullying.
The CoE on Social Media and Mental Wellness will focus on three priorities: 1) education and resources around the risks and benefits of social media use for children and youth; 2) culturally and linguistically appropriate technical assistance focusing on active learning, consultation, and support on how to best assist children and youth when interfacing with the digital world in a way that enhances their mental health while reducing harm; and 3) best practices and research updates.
The CoE on Social Media and Mental Wellness funding will fund one award for $2 million per year, up to five years. Domestic public and private nonprofit entities; state governments; political subdivisions of states; federally recognized American Indian/Alaska Native tribes and tribal organizations; public and private universities and colleges; and community and faith-based organizations are eligible to apply.
Anyone seeking treatment for mental health or substance use issues should call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357) or visit findtreatment.samhsa.gov.