There is a common myth ingrained in the minds of students that in order to achieve personal success they must be an overachieving student, and receiving nothing but the best when it comes to grades and accolades. Getting into a prestigious university that is a household name breeds unbearable pressure in the lives of students, and ultimately contributes to the mental, emotional and physical unraveling that are side effects to chasing the idea of being the “perfect student”.
Currently, nearly 50 percent of high school students admit to feelings of depression, and roughly 26 percent of students have been diagnosed with depression or an anxiety-related disorder according to a study by the Pew Research Center. That is nearly five times the national average, and anxiety affects student performance and success as well. The fatigue, panic attacks, dread and jumpiness, headaches, stomach problems, and shortness of breath that are becoming more frequent and prevalent in the student experience.
Anxiety that students are dealing with is just not because of testing, but also because of social media.
Experts point to a number of reasons that anxiety has blossomed among today’s students. “I see two major issues,” says Rob Benner, a Bridgeport, Conn., school psychologist with nearly 30 years’ experience. “One is testing anxiety, and the other is anxiety over social media.”
A study published in Clinical Psychological Science points to the development of something very troubling in the lives of U.S. teens between 2010 and 2015. During those five years, the number of teens who felt “useless and joyless” surged 33 percent. The number of 13 to 18-year-olds who committed suicide jumped 31 percent.
“What happened so that so many more teens, in such a short time, would feel depressed, attempt suicide and commit suicide?” wrote one of the study’s authors, San Diego State University professor Jean Twenge, in a Washington Post column. “After scouring several large surveys for clues, I found that all of the possibilities traced back to a major change in teens’ lives: the sudden ascendance of the smartphone.”
Students are mean to each other online, and they say things to a screen that they would never say face to face, things like “you should kill yourself.” And many studies have found that increased social media use actually makes people feel more socially isolated. It also disrupts sleep, which is related to mental health.
According to a new survey of 20,000 Americans sponsored by The Cigna Health Insurance Company, loneliness is at epidemic proportions. And if you suffer from mental illness, odds are that feeling lonely and disconnected from others is a factor in your depression and/or anxiety. But how can you feel disconnected from others when you are constantly able to be connected through social media? The answer is complicated.
In a recent survey sponsored by The Cigna Health Insurance Company, 46% of respondents reported sometimes or always feeling alone. How big of a role does social media play on these high loneliness figures? That depends on how you interact with the Internet.
Studies suggest that using Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and similar social media apps to keep in touch with friends and forge off-line connections can add vitality and communion to your life. But if you are spending hours every day using social media mainly as a substitute for real connection, your feelings of loneliness and inadequacy will likely worsen.
Schools can create policies around phone use during school hours, but ultimately, “parents need to manage the time that students are on their phones, and I think students need to earn that time,” said Brenner. Schools can also encourage students to make on campus support groups so they can talk amongst themselves without the presence of any adult supervision so that students who feel a common pressure are able to feel like they have an accessible safe space. Another way to help would be to have an on-campus therapist so when students feel overwhelmed, especially during finals week or any stressful point in the year, they have a healthy outlet that will also hold their confidence.
Students are forced to internalize pressure constantly to live up to an idea of who they should be, and a lot of times their struggles unnoticed or unsolved. They are the ones who want to be “alright”, but don’t know how to be. They turn to drugs, to alcohol. Unhealthy social media addiction and self-harming become coping mechanisms to the youth. To walk around with a heavy heart is something that needs to be taken seriously, before it is too late.