REFRESH AT YOUR OWN RISK

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By Cassandra Spurrell

Growing up in front of screens, young adults have been struggling with mental health, discovering who they are as people and trying to keep up with their online presence all at once. Behind the screen is a different person that is suffering in silence.

Social media is a distraction – so much time goes by without realizing it. It can also be a distraction to help you deal and cope with mental health issues.

Instagram can make a huge difference in a person’s mental health. “A lot of problems stem from Instagram and a lot of tension and anxiety that they [teens] feel,” Najma Abdi, B.S.c, M.Psy. (Candidate) said.

“I know that even spending a few hours a week on any electronic media, but specifically social media is already linked to things like lower self-reported happiness, self-esteem, and just lower mental health issues in general,” Anna Bonato, a pre-licenced professional therapist in Brampton, Ont. said.

Being on social media can be fun and exciting – getting to laugh at funny and relatable pictures and videos and share them with friends. A big downside to that can be cyber bullying, according to a July 2019 study ‘Association of Screen Time and Depression in Adolescence’.

Going on social media and seeing all the rude and hurtful things people can say about another individual is always a let-down.

“Every time I posted a video on Tiktok I really did get anxiety because I was always worried about the people I didn’t know judging me,” said Alexis MacDonald, an 18-year-old who went viral on Tiktok.

Just as bullies hide behind a phone or computer screen, so do other people’s emotions. When online, you mainly see the good parts of people’s lives that make people think that an individual is living their “best life.” In reality, they’re just trying to put up a fake persona for their followers, the 2019 study showed.

Teenagers lack face-to-face communication skills. Always being alone and not interacting with others, they forget how to act and what to say around people.

“There has been an increase in social media use, and so they’re seeing a lot of correlations with this lack of in-person socializing and more time to spend behind these fake personas on social media and just in general, not socializing with other people,” Anna said. 

Being able to see emotion from others and having to reciprocate is what allows us to have healthy communication skills.

Using too much social media can result in a higher chance of developing attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Extreme use of social media can affect the way you concentrate on things like schoolwork, home tasks, conversations with people, and more. A 2018 survey from researchers at the University of Southern California found a link between social media use and the development of ADHD.

People who are more naturally impulsive or predisposed to developing ADHD have a greater chance of developing it if they use too much social media, according to Anna. Self esteem is also at risk. Going through Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat, young adults see many celebrities or other influencers’ bodies and wish they looked like them.

“These people are going to identify what beauty means to them and this is where eating disorders come into play – a lot of the comparisons, a lot of how you look, and what seems to be ideal in the standard of ideal beauty,” Najma said

Trying to measure up to a certain level of beauty is where young adults and teens start wondering if they’re good enough. This can trigger depression and loss of self-worth.

For some, lack of emotion can also contribute to a decrease in communication which can lead to isolating yourself. Feelings of not being good enough can take a big toll on mental health and add more stress.

Between the ages of 15-18, teens are still figuring out who they are. The influence of social media is so overwhelming and addicting that teens can lose themselves in the digital world. We have all experienced it – we see a celebrity and their large house, a fancy car, an expensive watch, and we think, “I want that. I want to be that.”

Social media and its addictive nature can complicate the process of discovering one’s own identity, especially when their views become tied to someone online. “They lose touch with who they are,” Najma said.

Many are not engaging in face-to-face conversations, not taking in what is happening around them because they are so captivated with the latest news on celebrities or trends.

“I think maybe even more importantly is as a society, just being constantly engaged, having our brain, our nervous system, constantly wired and engaged with checking things out. I think the danger there is the human brain has never existed in this kind of value before, where there is literally no down time, and I think [it’s dangerous] for teens, especially where the brain and the nervous system are in developmental processes,” Rhonda said.

Not everything about social media is negative. Being able to connect with others around the world is important. Understanding different cultures, learning about new things young people see and hear as well as helping them find their own voice and learning how to express themselves are all positive outcomes.

How much time you spend offline is also key to a healthy balance of social media and life. Learning to be present with others is a vital practice for social interaction. “I think it’s about having balancing practices, about recognizing that nothing is purely good or purely bad; it’s how we use these things,” Rhonda said.

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