Social Media Affecting Teen Depression
Social media has become a daily method of communication even though the research consistently points to the fact that the more time we spend on social media, the more depressed we are. The level of social media-linked depression increases at an exponential rate for teens because of a lack of support structure in place, and also because the human brain still in the process of development until the age of 25, and therefore, increasingly subject to influence during these crucial formative years. In the spectrum of mental health disorders, social media as a trigger and a cause is relatively new and this phenomenon is still being studied. The United States National Institute of Health has conducted some of the most rigorous data-driven research protocols examining this very subject.
Psychological Effects of Social Media on Youth
The National Institute of Health (NIH) has officially linked teen depression linked to social media use. Teens affected with social media-linked depression often describe feelings of anxiety, envy, narcissism, poor body image, loneliness and decreased social skills. These affects are cross-cultural and not linked to socio-economic status.
Social-media linked teen depression has become so prevalent that the NIH is currently conducting yet another research study “to understand the causes of depression, the teen brain, and evaluate new treatments. Studies enroll participants, ages 11-17, for research assessments, brain scans, talk therapy or other standard treatments.”
How Does Social Media Affect Self Esteem?
Social media’s effect on self-esteem results from:
- comparison of self with others (usually to highly curated images not depicting “life as it is.”
- The perception that one is being left out, also known colloquially as FOMO (fear of missing out), a term coined specifically to describe “anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.”
Dr. Jennifer Rhodes terms this a paradox affect, wherein we are connected to every one of our friends on social media, and yet our reality is that we are more disconnected than ever before and less likely to venture outside of our screen for human interaction. Our online friends’ lives are depicted in such glorious and bright terms that we perceive that their lives are filled with so many options, none of which are currently available to us.
Social media also causes unrealistic expectations, negative body image, and addiction. Teens catch themselves comparing their physical features or daily life to people who they’re envious of, a cycle fueled by Influencers and You Tubers and which has no end in sight.
Donna Wick, EdD, founder of Mind-to Mind Parenting, says “that for teenager’s the combined weight of vulnerability, the need for validation, and a desire to compare themselves with peers forms a perfect storm of self-doubt. She’s so thin, her grades are perfect. What a happy couple, I’ll never be that cool, that skinny, that lucky, that successful.” These thoughts often plague the mind of children who suffer from depression or anxiety.
What can YOU do as a concerned parent or educator?
Signs of Depression
It’s important to recognize these classic signs of depression and anxiety in teens, according to the The NIH:
- Does my child seem irritable or sad for days? Not interested in activities that he/she usually finds fun?
- Have my child’s eating habits changed?
- Does my child spend less time with friends?
- Has school suddenly become a struggle?
- Despite my child’s low energy, does he/she become riled up and angry easily?
Social-media affective depression might be classified as typical depression – there is a cause and effect, and the factors involved in each can be manipulated.
We also wish to share these three signs of atypical depression from Psychology Today:
Teenage Counseling Services
Teenage counseling services can be an excellent tool in developing skills for current and future problems. The effects will be life-long by gaining insight in self-regulation, setting boundaries, coping strategies, social skills, and self-esteem.
If your teen is suffering from depression, reaching out to a licensed professional can help your child navigate their emotions and regain his/her sense of self, learn to manage time online and rebound back into a healthy dialogue with self, friends and the world around them. Teens not only need someone to hear them, they also need practical tools to help them manage their ever-shifting world.
Specialized Therapy Services partner with Charter Schools in order to provide Special Education services to students. Our ERMHS (Educationally Related Mental Health Service) therapists work with students on their social-emotional goals in schools to help improve mood, learn helpful coping strategies, and increase academic success.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Teenagers soak up the implicit messaging in social media. Every time they mindlessly scroll or even engage and comment on a thread, they recreate inner emotional landscapes saturated with judgement, fear and anxiety based on comparing their ho-hum ordinary lives with the spectacularly curated lives of their social media feed. Of all these affects, perhaps the most adverse impact social media has on teenagers is low self-esteem.
Girls are far more likely to suffer from low self-esteem than boys. This is most likely due to the comparison factor in which girls engage– most celebrities and social media influencers are photoshopped, lit, and shot in a beautiful, exotic location. Imagine comparing yourself, post-school, sitting in your bedroom with someone so uber-fabulous, dressed in a teeny tiny bikini, laying on an exotic island. So maybe that’s a bit exaggerated, but that’s how the mind interprets things. The mind interprets different lifestyles as lack: imagine that your friend Ella posts about her uber-fabulous birthday party with baby goat yoga. Everyone is laughing, tumbling around in a goat-yoga-down-dog-fun-house in Ella’s magical backyard. Behind her is a sparkling pool and a table laid out with presents. And you’re not there. You’re not Ella. You’re not one of her friends. And therefore, you aren’t worthy. That’s how the mind works.
Absolutely. Low self-esteem often leads to social isolation, poor concentration, decreased activity and sleep disruptions. Anxiety and fear lead to depression, withdrawing from life’s events and becoming more isolated than before, which leads to even more anxiety. It becomes a tumbling snowball that keeps increasing in speed and size.
Social media can also be a positive tool for teenagers to connect with friends and family. Parents can consider having time regulations for their children to restrict the amount of online use. Setting parental restrictions/ boundaries for what is appropriate for your child to view, will also help regulate the negative impact on your child’s mind.
Social media has the potential to affect education in highly positive ways. This Georgetown University article highlights some creative techniques that teachers have used with social media to research and explore classroom issues.
The negative effect of prolonged social media use as a standalone activity and its relationship to education depends on the psychology of each individual. Social media might be labeled as an indirect cause, and not a direct cause and effect in terms of education. If students are distracted by their phones and aren’t paying attention to what is being taught in the classroom, of course that will affect their ability to perform. Someone who is depressed and anxious as a result of social media will withdraw from studies and friends.
Legally, a child under the age of 18 years cannot consent to their own treatment (there are exceptions). The consenting parent/legal guardian has access to their child’s treatment. Clinically, it is beneficial for a teenage client to create a safe relationship with their therapist where they can share information openly. If a teenager is worried about a parent finding out the content of their session, they will often withhold information resulting in a lack of progress toward goals. Prior to initialing treatment, it is important for a therapist to discuss the expectations with the parent and teenager regarding what and how information with the parent/s is discussed. To read more in depth about the limits of confidentiality and minor consent, follow these links:
Exceptions to Confidentiality for Mental Health Providers in CA
Confidentiality with Minors
There are many free online tools for public access that address various mental health disorders including OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). While utilizing online tools does not replace in-person or virtual counseling, they can be helpful when finances are a barrier to obtaining a therapist. Here are links to online tools and recommended apps:
Best Mental Health Apps
Mental Health America
Youth Anxiety Tools
Screenings for Obsessive Compulsive Disorders
Also consider a therapist who works with your insurance or offer sliding scale fees. Psychology today is a helpful tool to filter your therapist needs: