Getting Answers: social media impact on teenager’s mental health

Between 2009 and 2019, depression rates doubled for all teenagers across the United States
Published: May. 15, 2023 at 9:57 AM EDT
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SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - We’re getting answers on the role social media plays in the mental health of teenagers. Between 2009 and 2019, depression rates doubled for all teenagers across the United States and local experts said the use of social media has contributed to those higher numbers.

Alondra Nieves, a junior at Roger L. Putnam Vocational Technical Academy in Springfield, was just 11 years old when she opened her first social media account. Now she’s 17 and has profiles on Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat.

“The first one was Facebook mostly because of my family. They also have Facebook,” Nieves said.

She told Western Mass News that she often uses social media for entertainment purposes, but can’t help struggle with certain side effects that come with it.

“Cyberbullying, obviously, is a huge issue and a lot of people do go through a lot of turmoil because of that and even if you try your best to ignore it or block accounts, it’s still going to pop up no matter what,” Nieves added.

Many doctors refer to social media use in teens as a mental health crisis and said there is also an impact on how teenagers feel about their body. Nieves agreed.

“Let’s say I’m not feeling that good with my body or my body image, whatever it may be, and then I see some other model or somebody else, then I compare myself to that and that obviously does not help my situation,” Nieves explained.

[Reporter: Do you ever think about the possibility of deleting social media as a whole because of that comparison you see constantly?]

“I would say yeah. When I know my mental health is struggling, especially like with image or whatever the case may be, I try not to be on it as much because I know it’s going to make it worse,” Nieves added.

Growing research is alarming and studies show high levels of social media use are associated with increased depression, especially among middle and high school students.

“The statistics are pretty clear and they are quite startling that depression is on the rise among adolescents in the U.S. and elsewhere, especially adolescent girls,” said UMass Communications Professor Dr. Erica Scharrer.

Scharrer conducts research specific to the role that media has in the lives of children and adolescents.

“There are a lot of potential trigger points, of course, for young people with social media use and so I would hope that parents and caregivers are just keeping the channels of communication open, keeping track of how the kid seems to feel, and then getting in touch with some professional resources if it seems warranted,” Scharrer added.

Dr. Bruce Waslick, the chief of child psychiatry at Baystate Medical Center, saievery patient he sees struggles with mental health issues with social media platforms being the root of the problem.

“All of my patients, at this point, are dealing with social media on some level…again, some getting some real positives from it, but others really increasing the anxiety, depression at times, feeling very bad about some of the interactions that are going on and assaulting their self-esteem when things aren’t going their way,” Waslick explained.

He also shares some advice tips to maintain mental health while using social media. Those included limiting social media usage, unfollow accounts that upset you, and participate in other activities offline such as sports, music, theatre, school work, and community groups.

“If parents feel like their kid’s social media use is having real negative effects on their self-esteem or their mental health, to consult the kid’s pediatrician who can often point families in the right direction to help deal with these types of problems…make social media a small part of your life, not a huge part of your life,” Waslick noted.

For those teens, Nieves told us something needs to change from both a government and community standpoint.

“I don’t think it’s talked about enough and it’s not an open thing and I feel like it should be…making sure that everybody knows what it is, what are the warning signs, and what to do about it,” Nieves said.