How social media is having unintended consequences on teen mental health

Posted at 8:34 AM, Jan 27, 2020

This story was written and produced by Hanover County journalism students

HANOVER COUNTY, Va. -- As teens go through everyday life, they deal with the normal pressures of school, friends, and family. One escape from this stress can be social media, but there can be unintended consequences for their mental health, according to researchers.

Atlee High School senior Kendall Jasinski says she can relate to those unintended consequences.

"I started struggling in eighth grade,” said Kendall. “I was truly sad and wasn’t exactly sure why I was feeling that way.”

Although she was told things would get better when she got to high school, Kendall says things got even worse during her freshman year.

Halfway through the school year, she was diagnosed with depression and anxiety.

Kendall Jasinski

“In the beginning, she was so low because it wasn’t something anybody understood, she didn’t understand where all these feelings and emotions were coming from,” Kendall’s mom Kristine Jasinski said.

One thing that plays a role in Kendall’s anxiety and depression is social media.

According to researchers, teens spend on average nine hours or more on their phones every day.

That correlates with a study published by the Journal of Abnormal Psychology that shows teen depression rose 52% from 2005 to 2017. The study also showed that one in five teens are affected by mental illness.

“Social media, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat… everyone just puts on this perfect life that they have and only showing the good moments. It would always make me feel like I wasn’t living life as interesting as them and I was just always comparing,” Kendall explained.

Kendall and mom

In fact, teen social media use may increase their risk for mental health problems, according to a study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The study says teens who spend more than three hours a day on social media are more likely to report high levels of behaviors that may be indicators of mental health problems compared to adolescents who do not use social media.

University of Richmond Psychology professor Dr. Kelly Lambert says distorted images on social media, like filters to make faces look beautiful and images of the perfect life can have negative effects on teens.

“We think that everybody’s life is a lot better than ours, as we compare that, our brains may not think that we’re up to speed, that we’re not as good as someone else,” said Dr. Lambert. “That can decrease that sense of mastery, decrease that sense of control. That’s where stress and anxiety can come in and hijack these systems.”

Dr. Kelly Lambert

While Dr. Lambert and other researchers are trying to understand the impact of technology on our brains, they say, for now, it’s important to spread awareness about mental health and its impact on teenagers.

As for Kendall, her mom says she believes her daughter has come out on the other side thanks to therapy and medication.

Kendall says she recognizes the importance of mental health because stress and anxiety is something that can impact everyone.

“Taking care of yourself and just knowing the signs… knowing when you’re pushing yourself to do too much, just stress, whatever it may be… Taking time for yourself and knowing what you need to do to make yourself feel better is just beneficial for yourself and everyone around you,” said the teen.

Kendall says she will continue to speak out and spread awareness about social media’s impact on mental health.

Every locality in Central Virginia has either a community service board or behavioral health authority staffed with professionals who can help someone experiencing mental health issues. You can locate a program near you here.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free and confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Call 1-800-273-8255.

CBS 6 has partnered with journalism students in Hanover County for the News Literacy Project, a nonpartisan national education nonprofit, to help the next generation of news consumers discern credible information from misinformation in the media.