March 20, 2013, 5:21 pm
By T. Rezvani
Ms. Rezvani is the assistant program coordinator of the Carter Center’s Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism.
Recently, the Carter Center Mental Health Program hosted the panel discussion “Beyond Stigma: Bringing the Conversation about Mental Illness Forward,” on the stigma of mental illness among young adults.
One topic that proved especially important was the role social media plays in young people’s lives and, consequently, their mental health.
The Pew Research Center estimates that 83 percent of Americans ages 18-29 use social networking sites. We also know that young adulthood is the key time when mental illnesses may surface, with three-quarters of people experiencing a mental illness such as depression or anxiety by age 24.
And social networking can have both negative and positive effects on everyone’s mental health.
According to a Nielsen study, 21 percent of general feelings reported after participating in social networking were negative. It is not difficult to imagine how this could be the case. Reports of bullying on social media are common, as is the perception that one’s online friends have a much better life than the user (a phenomenon nicknamed “Facebook envy”).
For a young person experiencing low self-esteem or a mental health problem for the first time, social networking can exacerbate the problem.
Although early intervention is critical to helping people with even the most serious mental illnesses recover, young people, especially, find it difficult to seek help. They may experience stigma or negativity online from their friends because they admit they are depressed or have another health problem.
However, social networking also really can help some young adults feel accepted and supported.
Mental Health organizations such as Active Minds are using social networks to target young adults and stimulate conversation around mental health issues.
When I was a college student, I knew someone battling depression and suicidal thoughts who found support and meaning in participating in an online forum unrelated to mental health.
And as an avid reader of blogs, I have witnessed prominent bloggers reveal that they have been battling depression and anxiety issues. Support from their readers was evident in the positive, encouraging comments they received.
As social media increases in significance and variety, we should ask ourselves: What actions can each of us take online every day to increase knowledge, acceptance, and support within our own social networks?
Let’s start together by sharing with our friends and family on social media that mental health affects all of us.