Social media use largely contributes to kids’ depression and anxiety

Local expert breaks down study from the U.S. Surgeon General.
Social media use largely contributes to kids’ depression and anxiety
Published: Jun. 22, 2023 at 6:20 PM CDT
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EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WFIE) - The Surgeon General of the United States, Vivek Murthy, recently released a study on the impact social media has on youth. The findings were alarming. The report shares that children have been in a decades long social experiment. The study goes on to say that social media use is a main contributor to depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders in the nation’s teenagers.

With summer here, children have more time and opportunity to access the internet. A local expert shares that we are in the midst of a mental health crisis when it comes to our youth.

Doctor Jim Schroeder is the Vice President of Psychological Services for Easterseals in Evansville. Doctor Schroeder has spent much of his time studying the impacts social media has on youth.

“We know the young brain is super malleable but we are learning the adolescent brain is probably more than we ever realized. Do you know that the rate of depression and suicide is 2.5 times today what it was during the great depression?” Schroeder asks.

Studies show 95% of teens say they use social media platforms. About a third say they are scrolling, posting or engaged with social media “almost constantly.”

“It does increase the likelihood of addictive behavior and the neuroscience behind it is pretty fascinating. More and more we are seeing that behavioral addiction is looking a lot like substance addiction. Being addicted to social media is tapping into the same neurological substrate like cocaine or another kind of substance,” Schroeder says.

The surgeon general calls youth mental health “the defining public health issue of our time.”

“When teens especially were on longer than three hours they doubled the risk for depression, doubled the risk for anxiety disorders. Well... here’s the challenge, the average teen today is on social media for 3.5 hours,” Schroeder explains.

A review of 42 studies indicate that excessive social media use is linked to reduced sleep duration, poor sleep quality, and overall sleep difficulties. On a typical weekday, one in three youth report screen media until midnight or later.

Social media impacts health in a variety of ways. The alarming rise of depression among teens is especially seen in females.

Nearly 60% of adolescent girls indicated that they have been contacted by a stranger through social media in ways that make them feel uncomfortable. A review of 20 studies found a clear link between body image and eating disorder concerns with social comparison being the likely contributing factor.

“Every time they’re viewing things online through social media, they’re comparing themselves. We’re seeing tons of studies show links to eating disorders and other things because of that social comparison,” Schroeder explains.

As a parent or guardian, this study might make you concerned for your youth. Schroeder says there are a few questions that you should ask. “How old are your kids? Number 2, what’s their development like? And 3, before you ever consider the questions should they have it? Do you know exactly what that entails?” Schroeder explains. “The number 1 thing we really can do as parents is to simply kind of say, hey I don’t know if you’re even ready for this in the first place,” he says.

The report encourages caregivers to create “tech-free” zones in the home, and to talk with kids about how social media use makes them feel.

“You have a generation or multiple generations that have constant noise, never get away from it,” Schroeder says. “They internally also struggle to have a sense of peace. What we as humans want the most is we want a peace of mind.”

Below is the full interview with Dr. Schroeder:

Peace of Mind: Full interview with Dr. Schroeder about kids and social media