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Social Media and Mental Health

Social media is everywhere. One cannot escape the various ads, requests for follows, and people do not just think one might be on social media, they simply expect it. But what effect does this have on the middle-aged adults? Those who grew up while the internet boomed and grew from AOL chat rooms to the massive social media corporations that society has today have been altered and affected in various ways. Though, one must question, how has one’s mental health changed in this era of retweets and shares? Has depression grown because of social media or is it simply correlative to the collective better understanding of these disorders?

cellphone with multiple sticky notes above it representing social media


First and foremost, in order to understand whether or not social media has increased the rise of various mental health disorders, one must first identify if there has been a rise in said disorders. Given that individuals have more access currently to information about mental health and see more advocacy in recent years, it can feel as those everyone around a person has some sort of mental health disorder. This feeling is only partially justified though; life expectancy, ease of access, and increase in acceptance of mental health treatment (Hafner, 1985). Given this broad view, it appears there has not been an increase in general mental health ailments across the board but when one looks closely at depression specifically there has been a rise from 6.6% to 7.3% of Americans in 2005-2015 (Goodwin, 2017). However, is this because of social media?

Social media usage has reached approximately 77% of all American adults (Mammoser, 2018). While typical usage of social media remains unproblematic, it has become compulsive and addictive for some. One study conducted on 23,500 Norwegian participants by Andreassen, Pallesen, and Griffiths in 2017 found that social media was linked to both higher rates of narcissism and lower self-esteem. Beyond this, there was also a consistent trend of individuals displaying addiction symptoms towards social media. All of which puts on at risk for depressive episodes, if not depressive disorder.
 

The risk factors were found to increase even more so if one was a part of these vulnerable groups: women, young adult, or single. Middle aged adults did not appear to be as heavily affected as their younger counterparts. Guzman and Mentes of University of California decided to explore specifically though whether or not there was a causative relationship between depression and social media in middle aged adults. Their findings detailed that in 3,294 adults aged 35 and above, via a self-reporting survey, depicted that despite robust usage of social media there was not a significant relationship with increased depression (Guzman & Mentez, 2017).

So, given the understanding that social media usage is rampant and a frequent part of daily life for even those middle aged, what is it that seems to be able to alleviate the depressive episodes that their younger counter parts seem to experience? What is it about their human-technology interactions that buffer them? One aspect that the abovementioned study addressed as a possibility is that the proliferations of social media in middle aged adults is more beneficial to prevent feelings of social isolation due to the requirements of daily life. Younger adults simply have more time available in the day to interact in person with one another and instead become reclusive and utilize social media as a substitute. This has the opposite effect on middle aged adults due to the absence of ability to interact in person frequently.
      

Furthermore, middle aged adults tend to feel the loss of community more keenly as life’s demands grow with the typical additives of greater workload, family expansion, and household duties. These accompanied with greater demands of health and welfare can leave the 35 and up group feeling cut off from the world due to a lack of time management and a sense of overwhelming responsibility.

With these things in mind, more research should be accomplished to understand what is causing young adults to become addicted to social media and develop depressive episodes because of it that does not happen to middle aged adults. This comparative study on a larger scale could be a double-sided solution as it not only helps us understand the impact of technology on the older generation but also helps buffer the younger generation from those feelings of ostracization and depression. So the research question proposed is: How does society protect its younger generations from falling victim to depression because of social media, while protecting the older generation from depression due to the lack of community?

Research in this area could be key to better understanding and defining internet addiction and withdrawal, as well as prevent rising statistics in suicide amidst the two generations for their opposing reasons. Social media in middle aged adults is linked to bettering one’s chances of being buffered against depressive episodes, despite there being immense research demonstrating that younger generations become more susceptible. Studies are needed to further understand these correlations and their causes, but for now, this information is a strong foundation.


References

Andreassen, C. S., Billieux, J., Griffiths, M. D., Kuss, D. J., Demetrovics, Z., Mazzoni, E., & Pallesen, S. (2016). The relationship between addictive use of social media and video games and symptoms of psychiatric disorders: A large-scale cross-sectional study. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors30(2), 252–262. https://doi-org.library.capella.edu/10.1037/adb0000160

Goodwin, R. (2017). Depression is on the Rise in the U.S., Especially Among Young Teens. Retrieved from: https://www.mailman.columbia.edu/public-health-now/news/depression-rise-us-especially-among-young-teens

Guzman, A. A., & Mentes, J. C. (2017). depression and social media use among middle aged and older u.s. adults. Innovation in Aging, 1(suppl_1), 1179-1179. doi:10.1093/geroni/igx004.4296

Hafner, H. (1985). Are Mental Disorders Increasing Over Time? Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4059492

Mammoser, G. (2018). The FOMO Is Real: How Social Media Increases Depression and Loneliness. Retrieved from: https://www.healthline.com/health-news/social-media-use-increases-depression-and-loneliness

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