Keandra Wellington | Effects of social media on the psychological well-being of young people
Mental Health has been a heavily discussed topic in Jamaica these past few months. Even our own Miss Universe Jamaica 2021, Miqueal-Symone Williams, has based her advocacy on mental health and its effects on children and teenagers.
We have seen flyers and posters of several forums being held by young people and other individuals who know what it is like to struggle with mental health and carry the effects of that struggle throughout their sojourn into adulthood.
However, I believe a topic that needs to be discussed on in regard to mental health, especially in these unprecedented times, is the effect that social media has on the mental health of young people.
Human beings are social beings, and while socialising is an essential human need, social media is not. We are living in a new normal and the pandemic has limited our access to other human beings, to human touch. We now resort excessively to social media, devoting hours upon hours and days upon days to staying connected in order to feel less isolated.
An article titled ‘Mental Health Epidemic Warning’ published in The Gleaner noted that there has been “a surge of mental health disorders triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic”, which was due to “insufficient resources dedicated to mental health management in the public healthcare system”. Dr Saphire Longmore, president of the Jamaica Psychiatric Association (JPA), even exclaimed that teenagers and young adults are the cohort worst affected by the pandemic.
The negative effects of social media on teens skyrocketed, especially for those who already suffer from mental illness. Now the full impact of social media, considering our new normal, needs to be addressed expeditiously.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, social media could impact youth’s mental health by magnifying ADHD, depression, anxiety and the fear of missing out (FOMO), which is now termed social media anxiety disorder, among other health issues.
Comparison is the thief of joy and social media comparison adds to existing insecurities surrounding bodily looks. It alters our healthy self-image. The negative effects were acknowledged by platforms like Instagram, which recently decided to combat this issue by no longer showing the likes feature on each post.
Furthermore, a docudrama film directed by Jeff Orlowski was released last year titled ‘The Social Dilemma’, which targeted how social media is designed to nurture an addiction and to spread disinformation.
Commentators and influencers on various social media platforms, like Jamaican YouTubers Kareembwoyatingz and Denille Rene, have proclaimed that ‘Social media is not a real place’, and that commentary, though comedy, could not have been said better.
While it is irrefutable that social media has extensive benefits, anyone would be foolish to ignore the dire effects of its drawbacks. Social media is a space that allows for unrealistic and unattainable lifestyle goals, cyberbullying, false advertising, sleep deprivation, and the list goes on.
So, what can we do to limit the negative effects of social media on our teens and young adults who possess a distorted outlook of what the world seems to be and should be in the social media realm?
SPACE TO BE EDUCATED
We have witnessed the Ministry of Health and Wellness, in association with U-Report, create a suicide prevention health line at 888-NEW-LIFE for mental health support. This has been coupled with efforts by UNICEF Jamaica, since the start of the pandemic, to ensure that telephone counselling/teletherapy was provided for students who really needed the help.
Nevertheless, the effect that social media has had on young people isolated in their homes needs to be underscored. What we can do, however, is to provide a space where young people can be educated on the benefits and the dire effects of social media.
Guidelines can also be implemented for how to safely manoeuvre the various platforms. Setting limits on social media to avoid overuse could also be a useful practice. Creating a space where young persons can acknowledge how social media makes them feel and addressing that at face value is as equally important.
Parents with underage children could also monitor their children’s use of social media consistently to ensure that it is being used in moderation. Additionally, mental health literacy and the promotion of good mental health is key to changing the mindsets of our youths who rely heavily on this digital world for developing their own identities and cultivating their own unique mindsets.
- Keandra Wellington is a second-year law student at the Faculty of Law at The University of the West Indies Mona. She is the CEAC elect of the Mona Law Society and a Project Coordinator for the Jamaica Youth Empowerment Through Cultural Arts and Nationalism. Send feedback to email@example.com.