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Mon 05 April 2021:

Social media has long transformed from a mere form of entertainment for American youth to a powerful machine that may bring empowerment and provide help in fighting depression which is caused by the very social media,yet experts are urging caution as health information gleaned online can hardly replace in-person services but instead lead to misdiagnoses.

In mid-March, roughly a year since the start of the COVID-19 lockdown in the United States, Common Sense, a California-based non-profit group that promotes safe technology and media for children, Hopelab and the California Health Care Foundation released a report dubbed “Coping with COVID-19: How Young People Use Digital Media to Manage Their Mental Health.” The survey revealed that four in 10 teens and young adults suffer from depression, a rise of 25 percent from just two years ago, with COVID-19 contributing to high levels of depression.


Yet those suffering from depression, which, according to numerous surveys, is caused by a range of issues including racism, sexism and body shaming on social media, are very actively turning to online resources to deal with the problem. Among the “tools” that the teens use to tackle the growing depression are social connection, information access, mobile apps and even digital health tools.

“Just wondering why I get sad or mad for no reason sometimes. I found out that it happens to a lot of people. I’m not the only one,” a 15-year-old boy admitted in the report, while an 18-year-old woman said: “During quarantine, I was given the opportunity to meet with a therapist via phone call, which helped me out a lot.”

However, not all experiences were positive. “I wanted to not be as scared to go out with people, and no, it did not help,” “I go online to research things and usually make myself worry more,” some teens claimed.

Speaking to journalists, Vicky Rideout, one of the lead researchers behind the survey, admitted that social media is merely “a double-edged sword.”

“Once we look at how and why they use social media, our understanding of the role social media plays in their lives becomes more nuanced,” she said, adding that “while social media may bring them some tragedies, it can also bring them hope and empowerment.”

Susannah Fox, another lead researcher behind the survey, believes that the study reveals how some teens are determined when it comes to addressing their mental health.

“As adults, we can’t just drop in their lives and look in from the outside. We have to listen and give them the space to tell us what they are thinking, what they are doing,” she said.


The survey confirms that social media is one form of connection young people seek to reach family and friends, Cara Pollard, a certified parent coach, and executive coach, told Sputnik.

“Those teens who engage and interact on social media with their connections along with real live connections, report feeling less depressed.

Interacting on social media is much healthier and is distinct from doom scrolling or looking at whatever else is being posted that makes a teen feel lonelier,” she explained.

Yet the feeling of isolation and ROMO, the Reality of Missing Out, is a real concern, she believes.

“It’s not just a fear or FOMO, – it’s really happening – it’s a reality. A teen seeing other people together enjoying time together can make them feel lonelier, anxious. and depressed. Limiting times spent on devices and being discerning about the information a teen is accessing is important, necessary, and helpful,” she said.

Pollard believes that health information online may provide “a great resource” for teenagers, yet its can not replace in-person services.

“Utilizing tools online may glean some initial assessments or surface-level help. Reading information or participating in on-line quizzes may help a teen determine some truths about themselves. But in order for them to make commitments to realizing the quality, or lack thereof, of their self-talk or habits that need to change, they will need deeper analysis and support,” she said.


As the demand for online mental help among teens grows, it would be wise for technological companies to invest in this technology, according to Pollard.

“I think they have to consider developing high quality services and capabilities that are as close to in-person services as possible. Offering ways for deep engagement in an online capacity may be difficult, but it’s necessary. Teens in treatment may need cognitive behavior therapy, exposure therapy or treatment for depression and anxiety- to name a few,” she explained.

Pollard suggested that the parents of those young people suffering from depression may need access to tools that help mitigate and treat their children conditions and symptoms rather than exacerbating them.

“This will be hard to achieve online or in an app but I am sure there are creative tech developers who can try to address it,” she said.

The consequences of the trend mentioned in the report may be an increase in misdiagnosis since there will be those who need deeper support that might get missed, Pollard believes.

“Some parents will believe their teens are attending online therapy sessions, so that must mean they are fine. Some teens will believe that as well. The mind is a tricky thing and we falsely believe things are ok but they are not. Seeing a client in person catches some concerning indicators,” she explained.

Yet, one of the most positive outcomes of this trend will be people having access to online therapy or to tools that may help them, according to the expert.

“There will be positive and negative outcomes to teens utilizing technology for their mental health needs and time will tell. Overall, there will be more positives than negatives,” she concluded.





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