Health & Medicine

Social media’s effect on adolescents’ lives can sometimes cause depression, anxiety

Erin McGill
Erin McGill

Another school year has begun, and it’s important to remember that adolescents are connected 24/7, even after class is dismissed.

The digital age allows for adolescents to be connected with one another at all times. The Pew Research Center reported in 2015 that 92 percent of teens reported going online daily, with 24 percent of them being online constantly due to the popularity of smartphones.

Social media sites Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram have become a significant part of the lives of adolescents. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that 71 percent of teenagers use more than one social media site. Many adolescents use social media to find information, express themselves and bond with friends and followers, but it can have a negative impact as well.

If an adolescent is bullied at school, the bullying can continue outside of school walls. Those on social media are at risk of cyberbullying, which can include mean-spirited text messages, social media posts, fake profiles, online harassment and more.

Cyberbullying can cause psychological, emotional and physical stress. This type of bullying can lead to depression and anxiety, feelings of sadness and loneliness, eating disorders, lack of motivation in school, decreased academic achievement, health problems, drug and alcohol abuse, and self-harm.

Many U.S. teenagers and adolescents have experienced depression. According to a study performed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2015, 3 million Americans ages 12 to 17 had at least one depressive episode the previous year.

A 2011 report from the American Academy of Pediatrics proposed a phenomenon called “Facebook depression,” a form of depression that develops when adolescents spend an exuberant amount of time on social media sites and then develop signs or symptoms of depression.

Like other forms of depression, those with Facebook depression are at risk of social isolation and can turn to risky behaviors such as substance abuse and aggressive behaviors.

Depression can also lead to more severe problems, such as suicide. Rates of suicide in people ages 15 to 24 has nearly tripled since the 1950s, according to the American College Health Association. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death in this age group, with more than 5,000 teens committing suicide each year. Harassment online, cyberbullying, depression and more can trigger suicidal thoughts in an adolescent’s mind.

If you notice a young person experiencing signs of depression, it is important to offer help and to listen and provide emotional support. Contact a mental health professional for treatment, which can have a positive impact and drastically change an adolescent’s life and future.

Erin McGill is a clinician at Our Lady of Peace in Louisville.