Social Media Teens

Is Social Media To Blame For The Rise In Teen Depression?

Social media sites like Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram have drastically changed the way teens socialize, communicate, and develop and maintain friendships. While the digital world affords many benefits for the youth of today, it also has risks. One of those risks seems to be depression. Most parents have realized the mental distress of cyber bullying, but many may not be aware that exclusions, unrealistic comparisons, lack of responses to posts, lack of online followers/friends, and such may result in teen depression.

Teen Depression Is Rising

From 2005 to 2014, research showed that the prevalence of adolescent depressive episodes increased from 8.7% to 11.3%. With similar studies confirming the rise in overall teen depression, many have started to look at the whys and are exploring how social media consumption contributes to it.

Teen Social Networking Is Rising

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 22% of teens are logging into Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and other social media sites at least 10 times per day. They also found that 75% of teens now own smartphones.

What Role Does Social Media Have In Teen Depression?

Analysts and psychologists are using terms like “ Facebook depression” and “Facebook envy” to describe the rapidly growing populace of social media users reporting that social media is causing them mental distress.

Interactions on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, etc can create a portal for harsh judgments, comparisons, self-esteem destruction, bullying, and attention-seeking. After all, it’s much easier to make critical statements to a screen that can’t fight back. It’s easy to be your own harshest critic and make comparisons when your feed is full of “friends” who may be prettier, smarter, more successful, or happier than you. And, it’s easy to have a negative self-esteem when posts are made in an effort to receive caring responses and end up sitting around with no comments or likes. In fact, many teens are turning to sites like buylikes.net, which offers automatic Instagram likes, out of desperation for attention or the perception of popularity.

One under realized social media problem causing mental distress is miscommunication. In real life, conversations depend on non-verbal communication, such as mannerisms and facial expressions, just as heavily as the words being spoken to convey a message, opinion, or emotion. Social media doesn’t afford such nonverbal cues. Between it being a singular communication and the disjointed ‘text language’ often used, miscommunication is a huge issue.

So how are these issues impacting teens?

Researchers at the University of Essex and University College London recently conducted a study that found girls using social media sites like Instagram were ten times more likely to suffer emotional issues as they transition into teenagers, such as unhappiness with friends, school, and their own body image. Happiness scores for the study group (girls between 10 and 15-years-old) dropped from 36.9 to 33.3.

Another report by UK’s Royal Society for Public Health surveyed 1500 individuals ranging in age from 14 to 24 and found that YouTube had the least negative impact and Instagram, Facebook, SnapChat, and Twitter had the greatest negative impact on mental health.

As a parent or caretaker, the knee jerk response is to delete all social media apps and ban teens from using them. Experts dissuade parents from the avoidance and ban approach. Teens often use social media to gain support, expand knowledge, and as a tool to seek help. Instead, it’s often recommended that parents take the time to monitor how teens use social media and understand how and what to watch out for in teens.

Symptoms Of Depression

A depressive episode is sadness and/or disinterest that deviates from normal for at least two weeks. Symptoms to watch out for in teens include:

  • Irritability
  • Sadness
  • Disinterest in normal likes
  • Changes in friends
  • Spending significantly more or less time on social media
  • Hopelessness
  • Eating and weight changes
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions
  • Isolation
  • Promiscuous, reckless, or dangerous behaviors
  • Difficulties in school and/or attendance of school
  • New physical complaints, such as headaches
  • Instagram Feed May Provide Clues To Mental Health

Fortune Magazine recently published a study of Instagram users by researchers at Harvard University and The University of Vermont. The study surveyed 166 individuals with Instagram accounts. In all, the researchers looked at almost 44,000 photos. A standardized clinical depression survey was given in regards to social media habits and history of depression as it related to their Instagram feeds.

Depressed user’s tended to post darker and more grey pictures with increased hue and decreased color saturation and brightness. The depressed subjects more frequently used Instagram filters, especially Inkwell. They posted more frequently and were more apt to post face-only photos, but had less number of faces within each photo than the non-depressed subjects.

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