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Is social media increasing the levels of anxiety and depression amongst youths?
Bettina van Wylich-Muxoll

Is social media increasing the levels of anxiety and depression amongst youths?

During the last decade, social media has become a permanent part of people’s lives playing an important role in social interaction. In fact, social media is one of the most common activities among young people.

Based on a study made by the American Academy of Pediatrics, 75% of teenagers own cell phones, and more than 50% of adolescents log on to a social media site more than once a day. All websites or phone applications that offer social interaction are considered to be social media. Gaming websites, video websites, and blogs, which have grown exponentially in popularity in recent years, should also be considered in this category. All of these web applications offer today’s youth an unlimited number of communication portals, and boundless access to information. Taking this into consideration, parents should take more interest in what their children are browsing on the internet because many websites are not suitable for young people. [1]

Benefits of social media

Social interaction: Online, adolescents accomplish many social functions that are important to them: staying connected with friends and family, making new friends, sharing experiences, and exchanging ideas.

Become more involved in the community: Social networks are a powerful and accessible toolkit for showcasing and acting on issues and causes that affect the younger generations. These platforms can be used for sharing opinions and gathering people to stand up for causes that interest our society. [2]

New opportunities: Most of today’s companies and organizations have a strong online presence and also share their content and opportunities on social platforms. Therefore, young people can easily find volunteering placements, jobs, and learning opportunities, and can also develop real world skills on the internet. Managing an online presence and being able to interact effectively online is becoming an important skill that many employers require. [2]

Access to information: The free and unlimited access to information is by far the handiest and most satisfying advantage. Social media is encouraging learning and discovery. Even though books are still used for facts and theoretical information, the internet is a convenient source to learn more about any topic and read about different opinions to help develop a teenager’s personality.

With this self-learning method, young people can explore alone, building independence and developing the skills they need to recognise and manage risk, learn and evaluate situations, which leads to an open mind-set. [2]

Drawbacks of social media

While social networks offer an opportunity to connect and interact with friends and family, there are also many downsides to using social media. For example, cyberbullying, “Facebook depression”, sleep deprivation, sexting, anxiety, and exposure to inappropriate content.

Cyberbullying: takes place using electronic technology, for example, unkind text messages or emails, rumours sent by email or posted on social networking sites, embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake profiles amongst other things.

Most parents fail to realize the huge influence social media has over tweens and teens. Cyberbullying is by far the most common, it can happen to anyone, and it may cause psychosocial outcomes including depression, anxiety, severe isolation, and even suicide. A recent survey by the American Academy of Paediatrics revealed that 20% of teens have sent or posted nude or semi-nude photographs or videos of themselves. [1]

Facebook depression: Researchers have found a new phenomenon called “Facebook depression”. This new disorder develops when teenagers spend great amounts of time on social networks and slowly become depressive. Peer acceptance and a sense of belonging are critical to adolescents, and when this fails to happen, they risk becoming depressed. Most of the time young people tend to share only what’s good on social media, leading others to believe that nothing bad ever occurs in their lives. Some people even go as far as posting positive matters about their life when in reality they might not be doing well just to impress their peers. [1] [3]

Sleep deprivation: Another negative aspect of social media is sleep deprivation. Lead researcher Dr. Cleland Woods said “While overall social media use impacts on sleep quality, those who log on at night appear to be particularly affected. This may be mostly true of individuals who are highly emotionally invested. This means we have to think about how our kids use social media, in relation to time for switching off.” [3]

Privacy concerns and the digital footprint: Privacy concerns are a good reason to be worried when your child is spending a lot of time on the internet. The misuse of social media can result in a lack of privacy, sharing too much information, or posting false information about themselves or others.

A matter that’s particularly disturbing is called the “digital footprint, which is one’s unique set of digital activities, actions, and communications that leave a data trace on the Internet. In other words, young people unaware of this on-going record of digital data may post inappropriate messages, pictures, and videos without understanding that “what goes online stays online”. Also, future jobs and university acceptances may be put in jeopardy. [1] [4]

Children’s mental health

The World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) released a Report on Mental Health and Well-being for children titled “Healthy Young Minds. Transforming the mental health of children.”  The WISH report encourages local communities and countries to focus on 10 Action Plans to improve the mental health of children around the world.

  • Community action: Every local community should implement a child well-being strategy
  • Parity of esteem: Mental health care for children and their parents should be widely available
  • Universality: Health professionals should be trained to identify mental health problems in children Professionals: Countries should train more professionals in psychological therapy
  • Well-being in Schools: The well-being of students should be the priority of every school
  • Measurement: Schools should evaluate all students’ well-being on a continuous basis
  • Add life-skills to the teaching curriculum: Schools should provide explicit instruction in life throughout school life
  • Teacher Training: All teachers should be trained to notice and promote well-being and mental health
  • Use of smartphone technology: Implement a smartphone-based program to promote mental health and well-being of the children
  • The Sustainable development goals: The sustainable development goals should include physical and mental health

Monitoring  the well-being and mental health of children at risk

The Monsenso mHealth solution can help facilitate the achievement of six of the ten points included in the WISH Action Plan.

  • Use of smartphone technology and well-being at schools – The Monsenso smartphone app can help adolescents express any negative feelings they may be experiencing. This information can help caregivers identify problems such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, ADHD or even more severe diagnoses such as bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder.
  • Measurement – With help from the Monsenso mHealth platform, school personnel can identify if some students present any Triggers or Early Warning signs. Once symptoms are identified in a group of students, caregivers can monitor this group closely to ensure they are receiving the support and attention they need.
  • Teacher training – The Monsenso web portal is so easy to use that caregivers do not require any special training to use the system. However, since they are not trained as mental healthcare specialists, they will need some training to help them interpret the information provided through the self-assessments.
  • Parity of esteem – In most countries, there is a lack of resources and the waiting time to schedule an appointment with a mental healthcare specialist can be up to a year. The Monsenso mHealth solution can help school personnel identify the students who are experiencing symptoms of mental illness. Once a student has been monitored for a determined period and the symptoms continue, school personnel can recommend that the family seek professional help.
  • Add life-skills to the teaching curriculum – Since all students would be required to fill out the daily self-assessments to evaluate and monitor their mental health well-being, the class dialogue can be facilitated by the information on the system. Teachers can provide students with real, anonymous examples of a person experiencing symptoms. Additionally, students could be encouraged to talk to a school counsellor if they experience any of the symptoms discussed in class. Students could also be taught how to act if they notice any symptoms in their peers.


References:

[1]Clinical Report-The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families. The American Academy of Pediatrics. 2011.
http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/early/2011/03/28/peds.2011-0054.full.pdf

[2]Benefits of internet and social media. Reach Out.
http://au.professionals.reachout.com/benefits-of-internet-and-social-media

[3]Pressure to be available on social media may harm teenagers. The British Psychological Society. 2015.
http://www.bps.org.uk/news/pressure-be-available-social-media-causes-teen-anxiety-and-depression

 [4]Digital footprint. Dictionary.com
http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/digital-footprint

[5]Healthy Young Minds. Transforming the mental health of children. Report of the WISH Mental Health and Well-being in Children Forum 2015
http://dpnfts5nbrdps.cloudfront.net/app/media/1432