(Editor's Note: This article was first published in the May 2022 print version of The Stand HERE.)
Young people struggle with depression and anxiety that can very often be linked to their use of social media. This is nothing new. Social media has been around for more than a decade, and that is plenty of time to see the impact on regular users. According to a study from 2017, depression symptoms and suicide rates are climbing among adolescents – a growth that is linked to screen time and social media use.
What is it about social media that causes this, and what can we do to prevent it?
Social media is a constant barrage of bad news.
News outlets online know that bad news grabs attention and – more importantly – earns a click. Clicks mean revenue, so news outlets have more than enough incentive to pump out as much bad news as they can.
This inevitably leads to a skewed view of reality for those whose main contact with the world at large is through social media. The world becomes darker with every headline, and hope seems to fade away as the reader chases the next wave of outrage. These feelings can bring a sense of purpose as if the news is giving the reader something to fight against or stand up for. But it does so at the dear cost of a handle on reality. For young minds, this can be too much to handle.
Social media breeds discontent and isolation.
Users of social media are constantly bombarded with advertisements, but they aren’t all commercials trying to sell soap or soup. Influencers (people who earn a living on social media platforms) advertise their lifestyles, often highly edited, and their followers are put into a position of admiration and envy. Young people see their favorite influencers wearing designer clothing, driving expensive cars, or becoming famous, and young minds begin to view their own lives as uninteresting, or worse, not worth living.
The glamorous lifestyles of influencers, the constant stream of entertainment, an escape from reality – these are the promises of social media, and the medium can become an inescapable black hole for everyone, particularly young people. It is a world that can surround you with thousands of people, yet leave you completely alone.
Alexandra Hamlet, Psy. D, a clinical psychologist, says “The less you are connected with human beings in a deep, empathic way, the less you’re really getting the benefits of a social interaction. The more superficial it is, the less likely it’s going to cause you to feel connected, which is something we all need.”
God did not design human minds to be satisfied with online faux communities. According to the previously mentioned 2017 study, it was found that social media-active girls who also spent a significant amount of time offline in face-to-face interactions were less likely to develop signs of depression.
What can we do to prevent social media depression?
The simplest, yet often hardest, answer is to detox. Unplug from social media. This is difficult for people who have developed an addiction to social media, but it is worth the effort. Another way to maintain mental health is to curate your social media. Follow accounts, influencers, brands, etc. that are helpful to you. Search for spiritually uplifting content, influencers who are honest, and accounts that actively challenge you to walk closely with the Lord. In this way, you can transform social media from a stream of depression to an avenue of benefits.