Anxiety And Depression In Teens | Is Social Media To Blame?

The stress of adult-life often has us pining for the more simple and idyllic lives we led as children. During adulthood, it can be easy to forget the very real challenges we faced when we were younger and supposedly carefree. Yet, as parents, it’s crucial that we remember that adolescence is defined by so much more than just hormones and homework; it’s a turbulent time of pivotal growth and emotional and psychosocial development. Teenagers are experiencing major changes within their relationships, their identities, their bodies, and their brains. This maturation can, even at the best of times, be confusing and overwhelming.

A consideration that parents, politicians, health institutions, educators, and doctors have only recently been forced to reflect on is whether or not this phase of physical, relational, and mental development is made more difficult by the presence of the internet and, specifically, social media.

Social media has transformed the way in which young people express themselves, establish relationships, form their identities, and learn about the world – and it has made the everyday trials and tribulations of being a teenager far more difficult to navigate. Within these hyper-connected times, teenagers are under immense pressure to be constantly accessible, they’re competing for popularity and peer approval in a global arena, and they’re forming self-image based on unattainable, Instagram-filtered notions of beauty.

Social media is known to exacerbate teenagers’ body image issues, cause sleep deprivation, and intensify bullying, but there is now a considerable amount of research to suggest that social media may also be to blame for increasing levels of mental health problems such as anxiety and depression in teens.

Are you aware of the pressures faced by your child of growing up in a hyperconnected world? Download our FREE eBook, ‘How Social Media Affects Young Minds: A Guide For Modern Parents’.

Key Statistics:

  • 91% of young people use the internet for social networking

  • Rates of anxiety and depression in young people have risen 70% in the past 25 years

  • 1 in 6 teenagers will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives

  • More than 12% of young people aged 12-17 have experienced a major depressive episode

  • Anxiety disorders are one the most commonly reported mental health disorders affecting Australian teenagers

  • Social anxiety disorders are more common in adolescent girls than boys

  • Recent reports state that Australian teenagers that are active on social media experience heightened levels of anxiety related to FOMO (the fear of missing out) or FONK (the fear of not knowing)

  • 1 in 5 teenagers admit to feeling worse about their own life as a result of what they see on social media

Understanding Depression In Teens

Depression is characterized as: perpetual sadness and inability to carry out daily activities for a period of at least 2-weeks. It is a common mental disorder which affects more than 300 million people of all ages throughout the world.

Teenagers who are suffering from depression may not be able to function properly at school or participate in their usual leisure activities. They may also have thoughts related to self-harm. At its worst, depression can lead to suicide. With the exception of road traffic injuries, suicide is the leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 29-years-old; with nearly 800,000 people taking their own lives each year.

Understanding Anxiety In Teens

It’s important to remember that anxiety is a normal human emotion. Most cases of normal anxiety are short-lived, with the anxious feelings only lasting for a few hours or a day. Anxiety is considered a problem when the anxious feelings:

  • Are consistently very intense and severe

  • Last for or weeks, months, or even longer

  • Are so debilitating that they interfere with learning, socialising and everyday life

Anxiety disorders are serious mental health problems which can have hugely detrimental effects on an adolescent child’s life. Teenagers who suffer from anxiety disorders can experience excessive and debilitating feelings of worry and panic, making it harder for them to leave the house, attend school, or participate in their usual activities. Anxiety can impact how a teenager feels, thinks, and behaves, and can interfere with learning and socialising (4). Acute anxiety can also cause physical side effects, such as panic attacks and hyperventilation.

Anxiety conditions can be particularly serious for young people because they are still developing. Untreated anxiety disorders in teenagers can have long-term repercussions for mental health and cognitive development.

How Is Social Media To Blame?

Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to depression because they’re subject to the following risk factors:

  • They’re hugely impacted by what others think of them

  • They’re experimenting with the independence of adulthood while still carrying the vulnerabilities of a child

  • Their bodies are changing rapidly

  • They’re having to juggle new responsibilities and meet new social expectations

  • Melatonin (the chemical in the brain which causes sleepiness) is released 2 hours later in the teenage brain than in the adult brain, meaning their sleep cycles become hugely disrupted

  • Their academic workload is becoming harder and the pressure to do well in exams and get into a good college can be overwhelming

  • They’re figuring out who they’re going to be

  • Older teens are navigating their own sexualities for the first time, while also being sexualised by others for the first time (11)

All of these factors illustrate how challenging it can be to navigate the tumultuous terrain of teenagehood – yet adding social networking sites into the equation has only seemed to make it harder.  Social media has given new meaning to the pressure of being ‘liked’, it has made the ideals of womanhood virtually impossible to achieve, and it has made it even harder for teenagers to get a good night’s sleep.

The feeling of being socially excluded or isolated is considered a major risk factor for depression and suicide (8). The best treatment for solitude is companionship; and even the most introverted of introverts will benefit from regular face to face interactions with friends or family members (12). Nowadays, however, adolescents are spending less time with their friends in the real world, and more time online.

“I’ve been on my phone more than I’ve been with actual people, my bed has, like, an imprint of my body.” – (Girl, 13.)

While these online relationships are both legitimate and beneficial for teenagers, they aren’t necessarily capable of providing the same level of comfort that in-person interactions can. Yet, to make matters worse, the pressure to be constantly accessible to others has made people increasingly preoccupied with their devices, and less focused on the people they’re physically with.

“I’m trying to talk to them about something, and they don’t actually look at my face… It hurts. I know my parents’ generation didn’t do that. I could be talking about something super important to me, and they wouldn’t even be listening.” – (Girl, 13.)

Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression In Teens – Is Your Teenager Suffering?

Anxiety and depression in teenagers can be difficult to detect because its symptoms can be perceived as normal things that all human beings struggle with at some point in their lives: sadness, lethargy, despair, or a loss of motivation. Add to that the fact that teenagers are notorious for oversleeping, fretting over friendships, and having constant mood swings, and it’s easy to see why parents may at times struggle to see the signs that their teenager is suffering from depression or anxiety.

Every person will experience sadness, anger, or loneliness at one time or another – as these feelings are natural responses to life’s hurdles. However, for young people that are suffering from depression, these negative human emotions and experiences happen concurrently, and over an extended period of time.

Depression in Teens | Symptoms To Look Out For:

Emotional and Behavioural:

  • Anger and irritability

  • Withdrawal from friends and family

  • Indifference and lack of joy

  • Loss of appetite

  • Self-harm

Physical:

  • Headaches and Migraines

  • Stomach aches

  • Joint and muscle pains

  • Indecisiveness and confusion

  • Insomnia or hypersomnia

Anxiety in Teens | Symptoms To Look Out For:

Emotional and Behavioural:

  • Restless and unable to relax

  • Self-conscious and sensitive to criticism

  • Uncomfortable in social situations

  • Worries compulsively

  • Obsessive and distracted

Physical:

  • Tense or sore muscles

  • Goes to the toilet frequently

  • Racing pulse and light-headedness

  • Sweaty and nauseous

  • Insomnia or hypersomnia

Anxiety and Depression In Teens – Tips For Supporting Your Loved One

Adults often refer to their childhoods as being the time of their lives. For some of us, that may be true, but for the rest of us, we’re possibly only remembering the good stuff. (Nostalgia has a way of making moments in time seem happier in retrospect.) Yet the reality is that right now, throughout the entire world, a large number of adolescent children are suffering from mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

Teenagers have far fewer years to fall back on than we do; they lack the experience that tells them that this will all be okay, and they’ve scarcely known themselves long enough to know what they personally need to do in order to cope with or get through challenging times. That’s why ongoing parental involvement is so important.

Here are some ways in which parents can support their adolescent children through depression and anxiety:

Physical activity and health: Regular exercise and a healthy diet can have truly beneficial effects for people suffering from mental health issues, so try to encourage your teen to participate in regular physical activities and ensure that they have nutritious meals.

Stop and listen: When someone is upset or distressed, it’s a natural impulse to ask them “what’s wrong”. With anxiety and depression, there isn’t necessarily going to be a reason behind these feelings, which is often what makes it seem so much harder to overcome. Simply allow your teenager to talk about how they’re feeling rather than expecting them to know why they’re feeling that way.

Be present: Teenagers can be deceptively mature and wise beyond their years, but they still want and need mentorship.

Help them to know their triggers and develop coping mechanisms: Not everything about anxiety and depression is clear-cut, but people who suffer from these mental health conditions will sometimes have specific triggers. If possible, try and help your child to recognise the things that make them feel panicked or upset, then work on establishing a series of small steps that they can take to help them cope (e.g. taking a deep breath, or writing in a diary).

Parental support can make a huge difference, but it’s sometimes necessary to seek professional help as well. You may want to visit the school guidance counsellor or schedule an appointment with your child’s GP.

To find help and learn more about adolescent mental health, you can also visit:

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References:

1. http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/brain_development_teenagers.html

2. https://www.rsph.org.uk/our-work/policy/social-media-and-young-people-s-mental-health-and-wellbeing.html

3. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/major-depression-among-adolescents.shtml

4. http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/anxiety_disorders_teenagers.html

5. https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/2017/05/23/report-statusofmind-social-media-and-young-peoples-mental-health-and-wellbeing-uk

6.https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/smart-parenting-smarter-kids/201709/its-complicated-teens-social-media-and-mental-health

7. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs369/en/

8.https://theconversation.com/amp/with-teen-mental-health-deteriorating-over-five-years-theres-a-likely-culprit-86996

9. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2167702617723376

10. https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/health/conditions/why-are-todays-teenagers-feeling-so-anxious/article7604612/

11. http://www.heysigmund.com/teens-and-depression-risk/

12. http://ronaldvoorn.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/1995-The-Need-to-Belong-Desire-for-Interpersonal-Attachments-as-a-Fundamental-Human-Motivation.pdf

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