Social Media Could Face Turning Point After Landmark Federal Advisory

Sep 18, 2023 | Social Media

This article includes the topic of suicide.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call, text, or chat with the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988, or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

“Is social media facing its own ‘tobacco moment’?” Peter Charalambous recently asked on ABC News. “After two decades of radically changing the way we interact with others, social media may be facing a turning point, as experts study whether excessive use may have a detrimental impact on youth mental health.”

“Our children have become unknowing participants in a decades-long experiment,” Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told ABC News in a statement. “And while there is more we have to learn about the full impact of social media use on their health and well-being, we know enough now to take action and protect our kids.”

In a recently published advisory, he called the impact of social media a public health crisis. “Extreme, inappropriate, and harmful content continues to be easily and widely accessible by children and adolescents.”

“Social media use by youth is nearly universal,” Dr. Murthy wrote. “Up to 95 percent of youth ages 13–17 report using a social media platform, with more than a third saying they use social media ‘almost constantly.’ Although age 13 is commonly the required minimum age used by social media platforms in the US, nearly 40 percent of children ages 8–12 use social media.” 

Despite this widespread use of social media platforms among children and adolescents, a robust safety analysis on the impact of social media on youth is so far lacking. But there are “increasing concerns among researchers, parents and caregivers, young people, healthcare experts, and others about the impact of social media on youth mental health,” warned the Surgeon General. 

With a concerning yet incomplete picture of the problem, policymakers are now facing a tough call, explained ABC’s Peter Charalambous the situation: “take swift action to attempt to mitigate the risk or wait for more evidence while potential harms may accrue. And for veterans of past public health crises—like the decades-long fight to regulate the tobacco industry—they say social media presents some familiar public relations and regulatory challenges.”

The potential harms are many: In her new book, Generations, psychology professor Jean Twenge warned that members of Gen Z (born between 1995-2012):

  • Are twice as likely to be dissatisfied with their lives than millennials at the same age
  • Are twice as likely to be clinically depressed as teens and young adults than millennials 
  • Are twice as likely to take their own lives as teens compared to millennials

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicides among young people increased by an alarming 62 percent between 2007 and 2021. “In 2021, suicide and homicide were the second and third leading causes of death, respectively, for people aged 10–24,” the CDC reported. 

Anxiety and depression are rising among America’s youth. Relentless social media and smartphone use can lead to sleep deprivation which in turn can exacerbate existing mental health issues. Many teens are also trying to self-medicate their symptoms with drugs and alcohol—an approach that will fairly quickly worsen any mental health symptoms and create dangerous new problems. 

“As physicians, we’ve seen how the twin crises of untreated mental illness and unsafe substance use are killing young people and tearing families apart across America. These are driven by the deadliest drug supply we’ve ever seen and the fact that too few young people have access to the prevention and care that we know can help,” Murthy and the Director of National Drug Control Policy Rahul Gupta wrote in July in an op-ed on USA Today

Many teenagers engaging in substance misuse eventually require professional treatment or else risk developing a full-blown addiction and other serious health problems. There is a new treatment option for at-risk teenagers in the Denver area. Avanti Behavioral Health offers an intensive outpatient program (IOP) for clients between the ages of 13 and 18 in Greenwood Village, Colorado. Our mission is to provide comprehensive, holistic, family-centered, and trauma-informed care for teens. 

“The struggles that kids face today on a day-to-day basis are totally different from what their parents experienced,” says Avanti’s clinical director Kathy Rodriguez. “If you look at the component of social media and how that impacts how they view themselves, how they view others, and the trauma that can come from it as well.” Families need to understand these factors to be able to rebuild a support system for the kids with substance use and mental health issues and then tie in their communities. “Families are not  alone.”

We believe that recovery from a substance use disorder is a process that should involve the entire immediate family. We have developed an effective and highly involved method of family counseling. For more information about our IOP and family programming call us at (720) 753-4030. 

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