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March 7, 2024

The Effects of YouTube on Mental Health

Ivan Alsina Jurnet
February 20, 2024
The Effects of YouTube on Mental Health

Launched in 2005, YouTube has evolved into the world's premier video-sharing platform, where viewers can access content created by media personalities known as YouTubers. Today, it stands as the foremost streaming platform and the second most used search engine globally, while fostering numerous social media communities. Recent reports from Statista (2023) indicate that YouTube boasts almost 2.5 billion monthly active users, solidifying its status as one of the most popular digital platforms.

While YouTube lacks some of the social networking functionality found on traditional platforms, it is best classified as a content community within the realm of social media sites (Kuss & Griffiths, 2017). Unlike Social Network Sites (SNS), which primarily focus on fostering relationships between users, YouTube is focused on content viewing and it is characterized by the development of parasocial relationships—defined as asymmetrical connections between media users and performers—that play a central role in shaping the platform's dynamics. The concept of parasocial relationships is considered close to real-life relationships, as the human brain has difficulties in distinguishing between them (Kanazawa, 2002). In this context, parasocial relationships with YouTubers can have a relevant influence on the excessive or addictive use of YouTube (de Beráil et al., 2019), as individuals may feel emotionally connected to their favorite content creators and seek constant engagement with their content.

Similar to SNS, the success of YouTube is accompanied by the development of addictive behaviors toward the website (Klobas et al., 2018). To increase user engagement, YouTube applies a complex set of rules and data in a real-time feedback loop to curate videos for viewers through its home page and recommended videos algorithms. These algorithms select and position videos based on the likelihood of being watched, ultimately optimizing long-term viewer engagement. Thanks to these features, YouTube has been found to meet three of the four needs for gratification proposed by Gan (2016) that drive the choice of social media:

  • Information gratification - associated with the use of informational content.
  • Hedonic gratification - through the use of entertainment content.
  • Social gratification - through implicit or explicit social connections related to content.


Recent research suggests the diverse ways in which utilizing YouTube appropriately can positively influence mental health outcomes and contribute to the well-being of individuals facing mental health challenges

  • Social Support and Validation: YouTube offers a platform for individuals to find social support, validate their experiences, and share positive experiences of seeking help, particularly beneficial for college students (Choi et al., 2021).
  • Improve recovery: For patients with psychological disorders, YouTube can play a role in initiating recovery by providing additional support (Monks-Woods & Panoraia, 2024).
  • Raising Awareness and Reducing Stigma: YouTube videos can increase awareness about specific mental health disorders like Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and help reduce prejudice and stigma towards individuals with mental health issues (Woloshyn and Savage, 2020; Lam et al., 2017; Lotun et al., 2022).
  • Enhancing Peer Support and Self-Efficacy: Through sharing of experiences, YouTube can enhance peer support networks and promote self-efficacy among individuals dealing with mental health challenges (Jung & Kim, 2021; Naslund et al., 2014; Sangeorzan et al., 2019).
  • Psychoeducational Content Delivery: YouTube is effective for delivering psychoeducational content about mental health disorders such as dementia or schizophrenia, contributing to improved understanding and communication strategies (Lam & Woo, 2019; Lam et al., 2017; Chandrasekaran et al., 2024).

However, despite its potential benefits, compulsive or excessive use of YouTube poses risks and problems that must be addressed, especially concerning vulnerable users such as children, teenagers, and young adults. These users are exposed to a wide range of content recommended by YouTube, which can have detrimental effects on their mental health. For example, exposure to inappropriate or harmful content may increase their risk of experiencing anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues. It is crucial to address these risks and implement measures to protect vulnerable users from potential harm.

Negative Effects

While research on the psychological impact of YouTube is still relatively new, initial studies have begun to uncover the negative effects associated with compulsive use of the platform. It is important to note that spending more than two hours a day on YouTube is likely to increase psychological risks (Klobas et al., 2018). These risks may include heightened levels of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues, particularly among vulnerable populations such as adolescents and young adults:

Anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts

Both male and female users of YouTube are particularly likely to exhibit poorer mental health and well-being across a range of indicators. For instance, Di Cara et al. (2022) found that YouTube users are more likely to report high levels of depression and suicidal thoughts compared to users of other social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. Similarly, Keating and Rudd-Arieta (2021) identified a strong association between YouTube use and the glorification/normalization of suicide. Furthermore, Khasawneh et al. (2020) found that direct exposure to videos about the Blue Whale challenge can normalize and reinforce self-harming and suicidal behaviors, especially among vulnerable populations such as adolescents.

Moreover, an association between YouTube behavior and depression and/or anxiety has been observed among college students (Zhang et al., 2020) and young adults aged between 18 and 30 years (Kircaburun et al., 2021). Additionally, research by Klobas et al. (2018) suggests that users with a tendency toward anxiety and neuroticism are at a slightly higher risk of compulsive YouTube use, while de Bérail et al. (2019) found that users with social anxiety may exhibit more addictive behaviors toward YouTube.

Overall, the emerging body of research suggests a complex and bidirectional relationship between YouTube compulsive use and mental health, particularly anxiety and depression. On one hand, individuals with preexisting anxiety or neurotic tendencies may be more susceptible to compulsive use of YouTube, potentially exacerbating their symptoms over time. On the other hand, prolonged exposure to YouTube content may contribute to heightened levels of anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation among users. This bidirectional relationship underscores the need for comprehensive research and proactive interventions to address the mental health implications of YouTube use.

Person looking overwhelmed lying on bed next to laptop


The findings from Gharani et al. (2021) suggest that YouTube users aged 25–44 years, with a high school education level or less, and who are single or never married, experience high levels of loneliness. Similarly, Kircaburun et al. (2021) found associations between YouTube use and loneliness among young adults aged between 18 and 30 years.

The development of parasocial relationships between content creators and followers on YouTube raises concerns about its potential impact on users' mental health. To mitigate loneliness and promote positive mental health, it is recommended that individuals limit their time on YouTube and seek out other forms of social interaction (Balcome & Leo, 2023).

Moreover, sedentary behaviors, such as excessive social media use, can detract from face-to-face social interaction, further exacerbating feelings of loneliness and social isolation. Therefore, it is essential for individuals to strike a balance between online and offline social activities to maintain their overall well-being.

Overall, these findings highlight the importance of understanding the implications of YouTube use on mental health, particularly in relation to loneliness, and stress the need for further research and interventions to address these issues.

Person alone in a dark room with laptop open, looking at their phone

Given the potential negative effects of inappropriate YouTube use on the emotional well-being of its users, it is essential to provide recommendations for promoting healthy YouTube habits:

  • Establish boundaries for your YouTube usage by setting limits on screen time and allocating specific periods for viewing. Research suggests that spending less than 2 hours per day on YouTube can help prevent compulsive use and mitigate associated risks to mental health.
  • Incorporate “detox” periods: Schedule regular “detox” periods where you intentionally take a break from Youtube. Consider setting aside designated days for digital detoxes to refresh your perspective, reduce screen-related fatigue, and to reduce the potential harmful effects of Youtube. During these detox periods, focus on activities such as spending time outdoors, reading, pursuing hobbies, or connecting face-to-face with friends and family. By incorporating detox periods into your routine, you can enhance mindfulness, and maintain a healthy balance between your online and offline life.
  • Prioritize high-quality, informative, and uplifting content that aligns with your interests and values, while avoiding content that may be distressing or harmful. Scientific studies have proven that informative content and educational videos on topics of interest can have benefits on the user’s emotional wellbeing, enhance feelings of competence and mastery, and foster a sense of curiosity and intellectual engagement.
  • Engage in meaningful interactions with creators on Youtube, such as leaving comments, participating in discussions, or joining live streams. By actively engaging with creators and fellow viewers, users can contribute to the conversation, share their thoughts and experiences, and form connections with like-minded individuals. Meaningful interactions with creators not only create a sense of belonging but also provide opportunities for personal growth, learning, and collaboration.
  • Balance your YouTube consumption with offline activities, such as exercise, socializing, and hobbies, to maintain a healthy lifestyle and emotional well-being.

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