Social Media and Depression
With Facebook, Twitter,and chat rooms, we are connected to each other like never before, thanks to the Internet and social media sites. But is all this connectedness a good thing?
Teens at Risk for Depression
Internet addiction is becoming a real and growing problem and mental health experts say there is a close relationship between Internet addiction tendencies, social media, and depression--especially in younger people.
For many teens, social media is now their main way of communicating with friends. Why pick up the phone when you can post up-to-the-minute updates on your Facebook page or tweet them to the world in real time on Twitter?
In a very recent study, young people with Internet addiction tendencies had moderate to severe depression compared to their non-addicted peers. These teens are most likely to visit sexually gratifying websites, gaming websites, and online community and chat sites. The study author says there is a small subset of the population who find it hard to control how much time they spend online, to the point where it interferes with their daily activities. What the study does not reveal is which comes first: depression or Internet addiction.
Mental health professionals believe online social media is associated with higher rates of depression in teens because it replaces time spent on real-life socializing or other activities--such as sports, school, and hobbies--that may actually prevent depression. Engaging in social media at night can also disrupt a teen's sleep, and experts are concerned that some online messages reinforce aggression and risky behavior.
This is not a new problem. In 2005, 15 percent of youth counseling patients were engaged in isolative-avoidant use of the Internet. The children most at risk for this behavior were teens who were highly troubled and had a history of depression or victimization.
Social Media and the Elderly
On the other hand, social media benefits seniors, who are often isolated and struggle with depression. Spending time online lowered depression by 20 percent among 7,000 older adults when someone connected them to sources of social support. Social media is especially important when face-to-face communication becomes difficult. A new study is looking at how providing access to the Internet and social media sites for seniors in assisted living facilities enhances their personal interactions and relationships.
The Internet is here to stay. It's up to parents and professionals to determine how to harness the benefits and minimize potential harm of social media.
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