This article is designed to address two major epidemics in our society and potential solutions to them: social media abuse, and the loneliness epidemic.
As an advocate for wellness and inclusion on social media, utilizing platforms such as Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook are paramount to continue the conversation around difficult topics. Social media is a large part of my career as a voice of influence but often, it does more harm than good.
A recent documentary published on Netflix highlighted the various issues surrounding the platform millions of us internationally actively use. Here are the main issues we are seeing:
Mental Illness Triggered by Social Influences
The most important issue that social media has been contributing to our world revolves around the mental health and wellness of teens and adults. The suicide rate for children and teens is rising in alignment with the increasing usage of social media. Digital experiences among adolescents may significantly impact their mental health and well-being, according to a presenter at the American Psychiatric Nurses Association Annual Conference.
According to a September 2020 report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the suicide rate for pediatric patients rose 57.4% from 2007 to 2018. It is the second largest cause of death in children, falling short only of accidents. Cyberbullying has received considerable attention as a possible cause of suicide. It has been deemed a major health concern for affected teens and major health threat to those affected by the psychological trauma inflicted by perpetrators on social media.
Teens in the U.S. who spend more than three hours a day on social media may be at a heightened risk for mental health issues, according to a 2019 study in JAMA Psychiatry. The study, which was adjusted for previous mental health diagnoses, concludes that while adolescents using social media more intensively have increased risk of internalizing problems or reporting mental health concerns, more research is needed on “whether setting limits on daily social media use, increasing media literacy, and redesigning social media platforms are effective means of reducing the burden of mental health problems in this population.”
In an ongoing pilot study that is part of a larger project to assess the potential of a social media monitoring intervention, Dr. Jamie Zelazny, PhD, RN, at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine analyzed data of 15 suicidal teens recruited from an intensive outpatient program at Western Psychiatric Hospital in Pennsylvania. The teens participated in three focus groups and completed questionnaires in which they provided feedback on positive and negative consequences of social media use. Results showed 67% of participants reported feeling worse about their own lives because of social media. Further, 73% felt pressured to post content that boosted their appearance to others, 60% felt pressured to tailor content for popularity and likes and 80% reported being affected by social media drama. However, 73% reported feeling supported on social media through challenges or tough times, 53% felt more connected to their friends’ feelings and 93% felt more connected to their friends’ lives.
Complete Lack of Privacy
Our personal information is being sold and traded by large corporations and data mining services so every activity we perform online is documented and shared with organizations that can benefit. Providing your career details, preferences, likes and dislikes to large entities, and all activity details is the price you pay to access the social platforms. This information is taken and used against users as puppets playing along with the marionettes. Data collected about user interests and past purchasing activity contribute to the advertisements each user experiences within their feed. The experience we are fed anytime we log into our preferred social platform is completely controlled by artificial intelligence and intuitive algorithms.
Furthermore, these mega social platforms don’t even refer to account holders as people, but rather as “users” – whereas the only other industry to refer to people as “users” is the drug industry. Per the Forbes article titled What Does it Mean for Social Media Platforms to “Sell” Our Data, the author writes,
“It seems that Facebook’s account holders are not “customers” since that would afford them a certain level of dignity and a relationship based around the company providing them a valuable service in a mutual transaction. They are only “people” when it comes to public statements and in the context of extracting monetizable behaviors from them. The rest of the time they are dehumanized through the term “user” to remind us that we are merely datapoints and login accounts to Facebook, not real human beings whose lives are being exploited and monetized for its benefit.”
The Loneliness Epidemic
Social connectivity was designed to bring people together, not to tear them apart—so why are we seeing an alarming climb in loneliness? Three out of every five adults, or 61%, report that they sometimes or always feel lonely, according to the second annual Cigna U.S. Loneliness Index, which is based on a survey of 10,000 adults. That’s up 7 percentage points from the 54% reading reported from the company’s first loneliness survey a year ago.
The numbers remain even higher for younger adults. Among workers aged 18-22 known as Gen Z, 73% report sometimes or always feeling alone. One reason why younger people may feel more isolated, may be their greater tendency to use social media. The study found an increasing correlation between social media usage and feelings of loneliness. Seven out of 10 heavy social media users reported feelings of loneliness, up from 53% a year ago. That compares to 51% of light social media users feeling lonely.
Pervasive loneliness has widespread effects. It is strongly linked to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. With such high numbers of loneliness, it’s no wonder why the demand for social media usage is so high.
It’s clear that these mega players in our world today aren’t going anywhere. Individuals utilizing social platforms must take control and adjust their behaviors to cut out this noise from their own lives and the experiences their children have. It’s important to replace these platforms with solutions that fill your soul, not take from it.
- SPACE by Yale University for Children
SPACE aims to treat children and adolescents with anxiety disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Although children do not have to attend SPACE sessions – they are the patients! When SPACE treatment is successful children feel less anxious and function better following treatment. Some of the main anxiety problems treated with SPACE include separation anxiety, social anxiety, generalized anxiety, fears and phobias, panic disorder and agoraphobia, selective mutism, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Learn More.
- TalkSpace For Adults to Promote Accessible Therapy
TalkSpace is a platform designed to connect adults with a licensed therapist from the palm of your hand, and experience the most convenient, affordable way to improve your mental health. The platform is designed to provide accessibility to those with healthcare coverage. This is not a social platform; however, it is one to discover mental help and clarity. Learn More.
- XXO Connect for Children and Adults
While still in the fundraising and planning phase, XXO is a completely secure social platform, free of advertisements and data collection. The independent platform was founded by a team of transformational coaches and certified therapists as well as social media experts that see the devastating flaws in the current social media climate and the affects it is having on our society. XXO Connect encourages deep human connection in a safe space paired with a database of tools and training to be mentally and emotionally strong. Learn More.
Please consider learning more about these tools and continue the dialogue around mental wellness and loneliness in a very digitally connected world. To support the Kickstarter campaign for the XXO Connect Platform, click here.
To learn more about the Social Dilemma, click here.