Is Social Media Addiction The Next American Mental Health Crisis?

There is a growing debate among Congress and the political pundit class on whether the Trump administration should consider breaking up the tech titans or if Congress should pass new regulations on Facebook, Google, Twitter and just for the fun of it, I’ll mention MySpace in this conversation as well. Yes, MySpace still exists. No, I don’t know anyone who uses it.

While freedom of speech issues on social networks and the possible breaking up of the Silicon Valley giants are both topics of great importance, the mental health issues that are being caused by social media use is equally as important.

Recent studies report a rise in levels of anxiety and depression among teenage and young adult users of social media. The BBC reported on a study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior that found participants who said they use seven or more social networks were more than three times as those that use between zero-two platforms to have higher levels of general anxiety symptoms.

 A study in the Clinical Psychological Science journal with a sample of over 500,000 U.S. adolescents in grades 8-12, found that between 2010-2015 there was an increased rate of depressive symptoms and suicide-related outcomes among those who spent more time on social media and smartphones with these participants reporting more mental health issues than those that spent time on non-screen activities.

Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine’s Department of Dermatology discussed the growing trend of people seeking surgery to make their face be more appealing for selfies. In 2017, the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery found that 55 percent of surgeons mentioned having patients that were seeking surgery procedures due to social media. 

These are just some of the many recent academic and mainstream press stories on the growing trend of mental health issues due to social media use. However, none of this should come as a surprise.

If you have spent any time on a social media platform, then you have encountered someone that is obsessed with likes, swipes and follows. Or, maybe you are the person that is spending hours per day trying to become social media famous.

This is not healthy behavior as research and common sense continues to prove. We have a generation of fame-obsessed teens and college students that I am afraid are becoming only more infatuated with fleeting social media fame. This behavior could be not only bad for their mental health but their physical health as well. If you browse YouTube, you’ll find videos of teenagers trying very dangerous stunts in an attempt to go viral.

The next time Congress holds hearings concerning social media and freedom of speech on these platforms and regulation, I hope Senators will also hold the wizards of Silicon Valley’s feet to the fire concerning their highly addictive products.

It’s not all Mark Zuckerberg’s fault. Healthy behaviors should start at home and in schools, but it’s time social media companies do more to help turn the tide of mental health issues that their products are no doubt partially contributing to in young adults.

Helping teens and young adults have less mental health issues is something we all can give a thumbs up to.

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