We live in an ever-more connected world, where one's friends are just a click away. Open your smartphone at any time of the day, and you're likely to see the smiling faces of your friends and family. Calling people to check in with them is almost redundant - a scroll through their social media pages will fill you in on all the details of their fun vacations, parties and life events.
On one hand, access to all of this personal information sounds great. You never have to worry about losing touch with old acquaintances, and you always have the ability to talk with your loved ones. On the other hand, this constant stream of information may build unreasonable expectations for your own personal life, which could in turn lead to feelings of loneliness and depression. These ailments will likely show up in health care settings around the country.
Physicians and nurses should not only understand how to spot the signs and symptoms of depression, but they also need to understand typical behaviors that can exaggerate feelings of loneliness.
Young people are susceptible to the isolating effects of social media
While more members of older generations are using social media, its effects on emotional states have been most well-documented in younger adults and teenagers. Forbes Magazine reported on a study from researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, which found that high levels of social media use are linked to feelings of social isolation.
The effects of high social media usage extend beyond feelings of loneliness. In fact, study participants who reported the highest usage of social media were 1.7 times more likely to exhibit signs of depression when compared to people with less frequent usage.
A social media highlight reel
People tend to post their happiest moments on social media. Pictures of vacations, celebrations, parties, new purchases and the like are all noteworthy. Even seemingly mundane posts such as photos of a meal at a restaurant may have a social component: They're showing viewers that the person taking the photo is adventurous, social and happy. Not pictured: the meal's expensive bill, the long drive home and the slightly upset stomach from eating too much.
In other words, social media pages can act as highlight reels - depictions of the best, most noteworthy memories. When compared to your own life, with all of its ups and downs, the social media experience of another's life can make yours seem bland and unfulfilling.
Teenage girls are at a higher risk for depression
Today's teenagers are more depressed than their counterparts of a decade ago, noted NPR, reporting on a study conducted by researchers at John Hopkins University. Moreover, teenage girls tend to have a higher risk of depression than teenage boys.
"Teen girls may define themselves in comparison to others."
The steady input of social media via a smartphone can have a dramatic effect on a teenage girl's sense of identity and self-worth.
"We know girls are very vulnerable to defining themselves in comparison to others," Psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair told NPR.
When teenagers compare their own experiences to another's highlight reel, problems can occur. That's why it's important for physicians and doctors to pay close attention to the behavior of their younger patients. The Mayo Clinic reported that early signs of depression in teenagers can be sudden losses of energy, angry outbursts and difficulty concentrating, among others.
Physicians should consider talking with their teenaged patients about what healthy social media consumption looks like, and explain why too much screen time could lead to emotional trauma.