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How social media can negatively impact mental health

Published: Nov. 30, 2021 at 4:47 PM CST
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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WEAU) - While there are many positive aspects of social media, heavy usage may negatively impact the mental health of teens.

Helen Kelly with the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) says when virtual learning started during the pandemic, it prevented the usual development that comes with physically being in a classroom.

“There’s so much socialization with school,” Kelly said. “We talk about the need for kids to socialize and interact with other kids, so after a while that became a real problem.”

Pediatric Psychologist Sarah Long with Gundersen Health System says many of those interactions had to happen online through social media, which can provide valuable connections.

“Whether that’s with friends, family members that you don’t get to see as often,” Long added. “For a lot of teens it’s also, when done appropriately, a really nice way to meet people with similar interests.”

However, Long says there can also be negative effects of social media use, like not feeling good enough.

“Generally speaking, on social media all of us present our best self, and our most fun and exciting activities,” Long explained. “Then they [teens] compare their whole life to this person’s idealized vision of what things look like, and that comparison can feel really negative for a lot of kids.”

Teenagers may also experience online bullying, which Long says can be difficult to get away from.

“As opposed to when those of us in our 30s, or 40s, or older were young, if somebody was picking on us at school, we went home and had a break from them,” Long recalled. “When it’s cyberbullying, it’s always there, there’s no escape from those people.”

Ultimately, those interactions can take a toll on a teen’s mental health, but Long says that may be improved by limiting the amount of time spent online.

“Get off the phone, get off social media, go do something else in order to help get your mind off of it, because that really does go a long way in breaking out of that cycle,” Long advised.

If unplugging doesn’t help, Kelly says additional resources may be needed.

NAMI offers peer support groups twice a week, giving teens a chance to talk about what they’re going through in a safe space.

“Sometimes, it’s just being able to express how you’re feeling and understand that hey, you’re really not alone, this is something that other people may have gone through as well,” Kelly said.

Kelly also says talking with parents, teachers, or friends can help alleviate feelings of anxiety or depression.

More information on the NAMI peer support groups can be found here.

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