Experts: Social media likely contributor to spike in depression and suicide rates

The initial intention of a thriving digital landscape got turned around and Generation Z seems to be the most impacted.

Photo: Leah Kelley

The irony that mocks the adverse social effects of social media is pretty tired at this point, but some recent studies beg we take its implications to heart.

Platforms like Facebook and Instagram might be contributing to a surge of depression and suicide rates in younger generations; a sobering consideration set against the 77% of Americans that say they’re active on a digital platform in one form or another and the staggering 45% of U.S. teens that admit to being online “almost constantly.” Experts expect the 2.34 billion social media users to clear 2.95 by next year.


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Previous research published in the Journal of Adolescence has confirmed the toxic association insomnia shares with insecurity and an addiction to social media platforms. The study plainly states that “those who were more emotionally invested in social media experienced poorer sleep quality, lower self-esteem and higher levels of anxiety and depression.”

Somehow, the initial intention of a thriving digital landscape got turned around and Generation Z seems to be the most impacted.

Teens and the digital hellscape

A recent study out of Pew Research Center contains some dispiriting statistics regarding what teens feel to be the most pressing menaces facing them today. Anxiety and depression came out on top with 70% of young people surveyed identifying them as major problems.

Some analysts suspect this epidemic of teenage panic to survive on the way social media nudges us to take stock in superficial things. Instagram is a platform comprised of 104.7 million users, all trying to out-impress each other via selfies, food pics and aerial shots of famous landmarks accompanied by Marilyn Monroe misquotes.

The Journal Of Early Adolescence reports that teens that post a high volume of selfies increase their risk for developing negative body images of themselves. This makes sense in observation with the 29% of teens that reportedly feel pressured to look good, cited in Pew Research Center’s study.

As it stands though Facebook is still leading the charge in the social technology invasion. The rules of Mark Zuckerberg’s playground are slightly different though. Facebook is an interactive platform where users can promote their ventures, advertise their brands, and engage with friends and followers about an array of topical subjects. Unfortunately, this rarely has the intended effect.

An experiment conducted by researchers at UC Berkley and the University of Chicago determined that there is a significant difference in how we perceive things when they’re said by others and when they’re read by others- even if what they’re saying is identical. So much nuance is amputated with text.

Additionally the “I’m having the best time” rat race Facebook can engender has been studied to contribute substantially to depression in individuals that over-use Facebook. “The feeling of being left out was always a potential contributor to feelings of depression and low self-esteem from time immemorial but only with social media has it now become possible to quantify the number of times you’re left off the invite list,” says Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D

These social pressures combine with the already highly reactive psyche of young developing adolescences to create a fatal solution. The Center For Disease Control and Prevention reports that suicide rates in young people has surged 56% between 2007 and 2017.

The advent of social media doesn’t act on its own but some medical professionals fear that its popularity is certainly exasperating a developing mental health crisis.


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CW Headley|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at cheadley@theladders.com.