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Youth Mental Health in the Digital Age

By Eric Sullivan

The intersection of youth mental health and social media presents a complex landscape with both negative and positive aspects. The JAMA Network did a great job of summarizing an in-depth review of this topic in a nearly 250 page report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM).

So here’s a take on this complicated issue:

On the downside, social media platforms can be breeding grounds for online bullying, cyber harassment, and the perpetuation of unrealistic beauty standards that can lead to eating disorders. The constant comparison to unrealistic representations of others’ lives on social media platforms can contribute to lower self-esteem among adolescents and young adults. The pressure to conform to societal expectations and the fear of missing out (FOMO) can exacerbate feelings of inadequacy and isolation.

On the other hand, social media offers unique opportunities for connectedness and support. It often serves as a virtual space for young people to form communities based on shared interests, struggles, or experiences - examples of this in underserved communities including LGBTQ+ young adults are called out in the NASEM report. Online platforms provide a sense of belonging and understanding, fostering relationships that might be challenging to establish for many in person.

Additionally, social media acts as a valuable resource for mental health information and support services. Various organizations, including my company Uneo Health, leverage these platforms to disseminate information, offer helplines, and create communities dedicated to promoting mental well-being. The accessibility of such resources can be instrumental in breaking down the barriers to seeking help and providing a lifeline for those in need.

Balancing the negative and positive impacts of social media on youth mental health requires an appreciation of these dynamics to develop effective strategies for promoting well-being in the “digital age”.