Bipolar 2 From Inside and Out

Posts tagged ‘social media’

Teens and Social Media: A Contrary Opinion

Vivek Murthy, the US Surgeon General, just released an advisory on the dangers to teen mental health that social media poses.

CNN reports, “While noting some benefits of the online platforms, the report warns of increasing concern and ‘ample indicators’ that social media can have ‘a profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.’ The 19-page report acknowledges that further research is needed and that online youth well-being is shaped by many complex factors, including screen time, content, and countless strengths and vulnerabilities of individual users.'”

There have been warnings about this crisis for over a decade. According to NPR, psychologist Jean Twenge looked at mental health metrics around 2012 and was shocked: “Rates of depression, anxiety, and loneliness were rising. And [Twenge] had a hypothesis for the cause: smartphones and all the social media that comes along with them. ‘Smartphones were used by the majority of Americans around 2012, and that’s the same time loneliness increases. That’s very suspicious,’ she wrote in The Atlantic in 2017.”

Well, I’m not so sure. Twenge also said that “22% of 10th-grade girls spend seven or more hours a day on social media.” That does sound like an alarming statistic, but it also means that over three-quarters of 10th-grade girls didn’t.

Other stats are similarly suspect. For example, “Teen social media use has skyrocketed in recent years. The rise in tech use coincides with rising rates of anxiety, depression, and loneliness.” This may be true, but it’s a far cry from saying that the rise in social media use causes the rising rates of mental distress. Throughout the years, everything from comic books to rock and roll to video games has been said to cause ills from teen violence to drug use to sexual deviancy. But correlation – the fact that two things happened around the same time – does not equal causation – that the one circumstance causes the other.

Similarly, “A study — considered one of the best to date on the subject — found an uptick in mental health issues after Facebook arrived on college campuses.” Even though it was thought to be one of the best, there were flaws in it (only lasting four weeks, for example), and once again, it suffers from the correlation-causation problem.

Now, I’m not arguing that social media isn’t at all related to adverse psychological outcomes. I’m just saying that the talk about them may not be incontrovertible evidence.

Certainly, social media has bad effects on teens – in particular, in cases of cyberstalking and cyberbullying. Cyberbullying has even been blamed in cases of teen suicide, though it seems likely that mental issues of existing depression, isolation, and low self-esteem are involved as well. I’m not going to say there’s anything even remotely questionable there. A lonely, isolated, depressed teen can be preyed upon by a bully, either same-age or older, taking advantage of their insecurities and desire for connection. The fact that this can end in tragedy is no surprise.

The technology of social media makes it easier for bullies to spread their messages further and more quickly than was possible in previous days. The potentially worldwide audience for hate and degradation makes the behavior even more devastating. But, while the technology makes the problem worse, the underlying cause is still bullying. Current efforts at reducing bullying have been largely ineffective. I don’t see how reducing cyberbullying will be any more successful.

Still, most of the objections to social media seem to focus on time spent and “inappropriate content.” And when they say “time spent,” they aren’t talking about the positive aspect of social media on education and homework. We learned during the COVID-19 pandemic about how social media can be used to further education. Zoom meetings for project work, Google searches for research topics, YouTube for instructional videos, and more are appropriate uses of social media.

As to “inappropriate content,” that’s always been available, from magazines to movies. True, there is a greater variety of content with greater disgustingness available. But just as it was never possible to shelter teens from magazines and movies, shutting off inappropriate content is not feasible. Nor can parents reliably monitor their teens’ social media use and the content they interact with. Adults are attached to their own screens, whether for business, shopping, entertainment, or accessing adult content themselves – not to mention all the other tasks they perform. They can’t be looking over teens’ shoulders all the time. Maybe it’s possible to take away a younger child’s smartphone at bedtime, but not teens’.

Some of the objectionable content doesn’t relate to sex, either – or at least not directly. Teen girls are hammered with content that encourages them to be thinner, more compliant with unrealistic adult standards of beauty, and ways of molding themselves into those images. This does promote negative self-images of teen girls’ reality and expectations, leading to lower self-esteem and, potentially, depression. Again, though, short of parents monitoring teen social media use, there’s virtually no way to stop this. Parents have no control over the messages that are coming in and little over how much gets through to teens.

And while the Surgeon General’s report makes some mention of the good aspects of social media, the potential for social media to foster beneficial connections is undeniable – another lesson we should have learned from the pandemic. Teens can keep in touch with friends from around the world, interact with relatives in other states, and attend virtual meetings and events. And if they use that personal connection time to engage in teen talk and trivia with their friends, that’s been true of teens since time immemorial. Think back on how many current adults spent hours talking on their low-tech phones after school with their friends.

So what are the solutions? There aren’t very many, and they aren’t very likely. Some potential (partial) remedies can be tried in schools – more anti-bullying education, and more tech education that focuses on ethics and responsibility. But, of course, those would take time away from the many other educational imperatives that schools have been made responsible for.

The other potential solutions are even less likely. There’s no way to stop content producers from producing objectionable content – not just porn and shady dating sites, but the many messages that teens get about their appearance, dangerous behavior, and other matters of questionable good and benefit.

So, are the warnings justified? Probably, yes. Teens are not just impressionable. Their brains are still pliable and forming. The content they see and hear through the internet does not take that into account. Parents can’t effectively monitor teens’ online behavior, and content producers won’t change what they put out – it’s too profitable.

Alerting parents to the dangers is all well and wonderful, but pointing out a problem with no solutions isn’t all that helpful, really. Here’s one story for parents about what might help:

Ten Opinions That May Offend Someone

Recently I noticed that I have been reluctant to offend people, particularly on Facebook. I keep my opinions to myself, especially on social and political matters, and dread being “unfriended” or starting (or continuing) a “flame war.”

This is not just a matter that relates to my bipolar disorder, though it is certainly that too. I have written a number of times about how having bipolar disorder and the behaviors it has brought out in me have cost me friends, even ones that I thought were “forever-friends.” These losses have affected me greatly, at times pushing my anxiety and depression buttons nearly as far as they can go.

Just as I have toned down my comments on subjects such as liberal vs. conservative issues, I have also let pass by posts in bipolar support groups and mental health memes on people’s general Facebook timelines that I’ve disagreed with. Oh, when I see a particularly incorrect or egregiously stigmatizing remark, I’ve been known to smack the person on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper, but often in a soft, “In my experience, you may not be correct” manner.

There are also conflicts within the bipolar world that I have strong opinions about but have not jumped into, for fear of offending someone. And I have to ask myself, what would be the consequences of offending someone in such a discussion?

Yes, I might be unfriended. More likely I would be ignored. Or (virtually) yelled at. In other words, if I offend someone with my opinions, they may in turn offend me with their opinions. And while that’s not a productive state of affairs, it’s hardly the end of the world. In an ideal world, I might cause someone to question or consider or engage in fruitful discussion. Not likely, but possible.

So, if I am trying to overcome my fear of offending people with my positions on guns, abortion, health care, climate change and the like, what am I to do about my opinions regarding bipolar disorder and mental health in general?

Well, first of all, I can state where I’m coming from: straight, white, female, married, childless, bipolar type 2, 60 years old, diagnosed for years and on any number of medications for years as well. Not much controversial there. That’s just facts about me and hard to deny.

But here are some things I believe that I know are sometimes subject to differences of opinion. And for what it’s worth, here’s my take on them.

  1. Psychotropic medications are good things. Yes, they can be overprescribed or improperly prescribed, but when dispensed and used correctly, they help.
  2. The Scientologists are way off base. Mental illness exists, and so do treatments for it.
  3. “Natural” or “holistic” treatments for mental illness are not enough to replace medication and talk therapy.
  4. Sunshine, exercise, and positive affirmations are good things, but also are not enough to replace medication and talk therapy. They do good for a number of people, less for others, and not much at all for some.
  5. We’ve got to change the popular dialogue about mental illness and violence. We must not let it go unchallenged. For that matter, we must change the popular dialogue about mental health in general.
  6. While it’s a good thing if those with mental illness take their medications properly, it is absolutely their right to refuse treatment.
  7. Health care (and insurance plans) should cover mental health care at the same levels as physical health. (Okay, that one’s not really controversial among the mental health community.)
  8. Emergency responders including police should all receive training in dealing with mental health issues, but they probably won’t.
  9. Most people don’t/won’t/can’t understand mental illness until it touches their own life in some way, and maybe not even then.
  10. Education about mental health issues should begin in grade school.

There. If you disagree with any of those statements or feel that I am an idiot for stating them, so be it.

Oh, and while we’re at it, persons with a mental health diagnosis should not automatically be prevented from owning guns, but people with domestic violence convictions should be.

I’m Not Introverted. I Just Don’t Want to Leave the House.

Maybe you would call me an introvert. I stay in the house for weeks at a time, never sticking my nose out into the fresh air. I wear pajamas all day, most days. My husband does the grocery shopping, picks up my prescriptions, and does most of the other errands.

I go out when I have a doctor’s appointment or when Dan entices me out with the promise of a restaurant meal.

I don’t consider myself an introvert.

I do consider myself a social person.

Why, then, do I stay indoors?

First, because my bipolar disorder makes me sensitive to noise and crowds. Technically, I think this is more agoraphobia than introversion. I can handle being in small groups of people or audiences, but hundreds milling around, as at a mall, make me panicky. And forget places that are both noisy and people-y, like Chuck E. Cheese or other family-intensive restaurants.

Second, I like to be social – on my own terms. That largely means Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, various online bipolar support groups, IM, email, Skype, and the good old-fashioned telephone. In the years since I’ve been on Facebook, for example, I’ve connected more deeply with old friends and coworkers, reconnected with old schoolmates and Girl Scout troop members, gained new relationships with friends-of-friends, and discovered things I never knew about my acquaintances. I keep up with birthdays; look at baby, travel, and pet pictures; and cheer on accomplishments, as I would in person. (Except for the hugs. Virtual hugs are just not the same. But my husband takes up the slack there)

Most of all, I stay inside because I can. My husband enables me in this, as when he does the grocery shopping. We tried splitting the shopping, but even with the little runabout scooter-with-a-basket (mobility issues), I was overwhelmed and exhausted after shopping just one-half of the store.

I’m able to work, at least some, and the work I do is conducive to telecommuting. I can sit in front of my keyboard and monitor, in my pajamas, and still be a useful, productive member of society. I have clients and interact with them in the aforementioned ways.

I haven’t had an assignment that involves leaving the house in years – not even to do research. I used to have to visit libraries occasionally, and while they’re not known for being noisy and people-y, Google and the Internet put virtually any information I need right on my screen or hard drive.

Admittedly, getting out into the fresh air would be good for me. We live in a nice secluded area that would be good for walking, and there are any number of parks nearby, if I want variety. I know that going out and getting at least a small amount of exercise would be good for my bipolar depression, but I haven’t been able to force myself to do it yet. Going outside to walk involves getting out of my jammies into real clothes, and possibly taking a shower, either before I leave or when I get back. And many of you know what a challenge showers are for people with depression, bipolar or otherwise.

But again, this is a symptom of my bipolar disorder and the immobility it causes, rather than introversion. I’m not afraid of meeting people while out walking, or even having conversations with them. Usually “hi” is all that’s needed in these situations, and I have the ability to make small amounts of small talk appropriate to the occasion. (“Sure is windy today.” “Are those shoes comfortable?”) Since I seem to be riding a hypomanic swing these days, perhaps I’ll be able to get out and walk occasionally. I know my husband would heartily endorse the idea and most likely go with me to offer me encouragement.

Bottom line? I can go out amongst people if I want to. I just usually don’t want to.

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