Updated: Oct 4, 2018
Impact of Social Media on the Mental Health of Teenagers
We have all grown up in a globalised society in which access to the internet, news, media and infinite other resources are abundant. Still, with all this access, it seems that the X and Y generations are the ones to suffer the most severely with mental illnesses. This thought not only rampaged a full-blown discussion but has also sparked some in-depth professional research.
The more I familiarised myself with this topic the more questions kept popping up; and relatively soon I saw that the only way to really approach such a broad issue, would be by narrowing down my research question. Thus, one of the most overlooked aspects of the struggles of being a teenager in the 21st Century are ones related to mental disorders and health. In the past decades, statistics denote drastic increases in the diagnosis of mental illnesses amongst the youngest population. Data from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) shows that 13% of children aged 8-15 have a diagnosable mental illness. The most common being Attention Deficit and closely followed by Major Depression and Mood Disorders. These numbers come in contrast with previous studies which a reflect a 4.1% increase in diagnosed teenagers over the last five years. All this, raises the question of how can a better educated, healthier, open-minded, and inquiring generation be the most depressed in history? In the US, 1 in every 10 teenagers will experience a mental health problem. Even so, the stigma that prevails around this topic is strong enough that many people might disregard their symptoms. It is critical to place mental health on the same pedestal as physical health; after all, it is a matter of the ineffective bridge of neurotransmitters being sent and received within the brain, caused by certain chemical imbalances.
Despite all this information that I have showered upon you, how does any of this connect to our cyber-addictions? How can an innocent maintenance of streaks on my Snapchat subconsciously cultivate anxiety disorders? Well, the black & white answer would be to tell you that this constant necessity to be available, online, and to always be living the “perfect life” installs immeasurable pressure and creates a vicious cycle of over-sharing and jealousy over the gains of others. Once we are given the power to curate our image to our desire, it seems unlikely that one would voluntarily publish their downsides. If you were to meet someone for the first time, would you start the conversation off by discussing all your flaws? That is exactly what each individual does to their online presence. We are given reign over what our friends, families and even strangers can see of our lives; hence, why would we let them know that some days it takes a little more strength to spring out of bed, or that at certain moments your thoughts race at a hundred miles an hour and you can’t even keep up. For this reason, we scroll through a feed of expensive pictures, sponsored ads, and artsy food photos every day; always trying to reflect the celebrities we feel personally connected to.
From continuous exposure to photoshopped images of models and ‘thigh gaps’, over 35% of teenage girls have eating disorders. By browsing the picturesque utopias created by YouTubers, 2 in every 25 teens suffer serious depression. Due to incessant comparison with other people’s lives and judgements about how we measure up, 8% of all teenagers have some form of anxiety.
Hence, the incessant use and exploitation of social media have been a factor in the development of certain mental illnesses. Despite being an omnipresent issue in the lives of 43,8 million people, there is still a lack of space to openly discuss and approach the stigma that surrounds the aforementioned disorders.This generates a significant impact as only 38% of all affected will actually receive treatment; meaning that there will be more victims with no treatment and fewer opportunities to develop skills and techniques to attend people. Still, if this issue remains unaddressed the surmount of pressure will keep rising and the effects could be even harsher. In past development, psychiatrists the increase in suicide rates exceptionally daunting. With so, I have been pondering on how might we raise the issue from mental illness to a question of mental health?
The answer does not lie in books, research papers, or on concrete responses. Much so, it lies on changing our perception of the social media addiction. Of how one can perceive the existing factors that mental health can and will have upon the life of teenagers; and still be able to work progressively towards healthy and stable relationships with their cell phones and the demons within their minds.