In June of 2018, a 25-year-old deputy in a county in Idaho made the mistake of driving while intoxicated. She wrecked into 2 parked vehicles in a driveway of a mobile home. One of the vehicles was pushed up against the home, making a hole in the owner’s bedroom. It was about 3am, so the couple woke up when she wrecked. The deputies that arrived on the scene knew her as a fellow officer, so the Idaho State police had to come to the scene to investigate. Although they were diligent in their investigation, they were kind enough to her to allow her to leave the scene with her father. When the media found out about the situation and the story was published, it sparked outrage by many local people. They commented on the story on the internet with complaints that she was not arrested. Some complained that she was treated differently than an average citizen since she was a deputy. She was released because she was a deputy jailer and the Idaho State policeman feared for her safety if she were to be put in the same jail that she worked, and many people did not agree with that decision. The comments were cruel, thoughtless and judgmental. A little over a week later, she was so depressed that this young woman took her own life. Perhaps she had a genetic predisposition to depression. Maybe she was so depressed because of her environmental influences that may have caused stress, anxiety, and the feeling of being a failure. Or, maybe the effect of social media was too much for her. Is it possible that social media played such a role in her depression that she felt no hope?
Depression is increasing at an alarming rate, especially in young adults. Today about 21.5% of American adults suffer from depression as well as about 11.3% of American youth (Dziemianowicz). In a study done at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health Notably, the rise was most rapid among those ages 12 to 17, increasing from 8.7 percent in 2005 to 12.7 percent in 2015 (Goodwin). Millions of people do not seek help and go undiagnosed for depression, so this percent is not accurate. About 20 percent of all teens experience depression before they reach adulthood. Between 10 to 15 percent suffer from symptoms at any one time. Only 30 percent of depressed teens are being treated for it (Borchard). Depression is so common, everyone is in some way influenced by it. Whether they themselves have had it, are currently struggling with it, or have a friend, acquaintance, or loved one who are as well.
Many people want to know how to help themselves or others when depression comes along. They want to know why it is happening. What is causing the rise of depression in young adults? Could it be that youth are simply more comfortable about sharing their problems? Is it genetic and passed down from generation for generation? Is because of the environment one lives in? Perhaps it is the lifestyle young adults are living. Could it be the high school and college lifestyle, such as the need to do well in school, homework, social life, sports, beginning careers, marriage, and children? An argument can be made that it is because of how degrading and judgmental society can be. For example, social media influences a person’s self-image and confidence, especially in young adults who are trying to figure out who they are and how they fit in to society. Social media portrays perfect families and situations that may not even be factual. Social media is a relatively new influence in this generation which makes psychologists think that it can be a reason for the rising problem of depression (Dziemianowicz).
In the 1980’s psychiatrists didn’t think that young adults and teens had brains that were developed enough to have the seemingly adult affliction of depression. At that time, children’s brains are still maturing and growing, and that was the cause of changes of mood and disorders. It was all a part of normal development. As more and more information and studies were brought to the table, that mindset changed. It is a terrible thing to dismiss children’s mental disorders as just normal human development, it is much more than that. Karen Swartz, a psychiatrist who is the director of clinical programs and John Hopkins University, has her own thoughts on depression. She compares depression to asthma, “another medical condition where environmental factors can worsen the situation. With asthma, an increase in dust or pollen could bring on an attack. With depression, it might be a family tragedy or a stressful situation at school. But outside factors don’t always play a role in either condition.” Now that we are aware that teens and young adults do suffer from depression and that it is growing at an alarming rate, we need to stop the epidemic. To do that, we need to address the causes.
Social media dramatically changed the way we communicate, socialize, and make and maintain friendships. While there are benefits to living in a digital world, there are also risks. Today’s youth miss out on critical social skills development when they spend most of their free time connected to and interacting through a screen. They can also get lost in a world of unrealistic comparisons, cyberbullying, and feeling left out (Hurley). There are many reasons social media can cause depression, especially in youth and young adults. Dr. Karyn Horowitz of Bradley Hospital in Rhode Island says, “for some kids, video game use can become an addiction leading to social isolation, poor school performance, and impaired sleep. It is possible that the increased rates of depression in adolescents and young adults is related to a combination of increased electronics use and sleep disruptions in already vulnerable individuals.”
Some of the experts believe that we have raised our teens to have unrealistic expectations. One of these reasons is the messages from modern media sources that suggest that we should always feel good. Youth receive unrealistic messages that everyone around them is happy and in harmony and then they do not have coping skills when this expectation falls short (Borchard). Recently, Chou and Edge published an article about the potential impact of using Facebook on students’ perceptions of others’ lives. The study carried out on 425 undergraduate students of at a state university in Utah reported that Facebook use is linked to participants’ impression that other users are happier, as well as the feeling that “life is not fair.’ (Chou).
In the journal of Depression and Anxiety there is a study published that found a correlation between a lot of social media usage and the rise of depression. In the research, it was found that those who participated looked at social media about 30 times per week. As well as an average of just over an hour per day. In the study journal it said, “Depression testing revealed that approximately one-quarter of the participants were at a high risk of depression. When social media patterns were compared with depression status, it was determined that those who used social media the most were about 2.7 times more likely to be depressed than participants who used social media the least” (BHOPB)
Another issue of social media is cyber bullying. People, especially teens and young adults, have had to worry about bullying long before social media became so popular. The main problem that comes from social media and bullying is that it can be 24/7. In the past, those who were subject to bullying could go home and escape from it. But now, with laptops, smartphones, and other devices used to view social media sites, victims are always connected to potential bullying. It now seems that getting away from bullying is impossible as it can come at any time. In the same previous journal of Depression and Anxiety, it showed the statistics of cyberbullying. “In 2011, it was estimated that 2.2 million American students experienced some form of cyberbullying. Other studies indicated that 7 percent of students from grades 6-12 experienced cyberbullying during the 2013-2014 school year, and that 15 percent of high school students in 2013 were bullied electronically during the previous year” (BHOPB). That bullying usually goes on into collage students as well. In other studies, a higher rate of depression was found young adults and teenagers who spend the most of their time on social media than those who spent the least amount of time. The numbers showed that it was a 13 to 66 percent higher rate (Miller). This correlation appears to be more than just a coincidence because the rise in depression occurs right in line with the increasing usage of smartphones.
A study in 2017 showed that from 2010 to 2015 there was a 33 percent increase of higher levels of depressive symptoms found in of over half a million 8th through 12th graders. During that same time there was a 65 percent increase of girls committing suicide at that same age group. The smartphone was introduced in 2007. In 2015 about 92 percent of teens and young adults had a smartphone. Jean Twenge, a psychologist for San Diego State University says, on the topic of depression and social media that, “The rise in depressive symptoms correlates with smartphone adoption during that period, even when matched year by year, over that same time period there was a sharp spike in reports of students seeking help at college and university counseling centers, principally for depression and anxiety. Visits jumped 30 percent between 2010 and 2015” (Miller).
Nowadays teenagers and young adults spend less time having face to face social interactions with their peers. They don’t connect on a personal level, but rather connect electronically, which is a huge difference when compared to earlier generations. Connections that they are making electronically are not as emotionally satisfying as in person experts say. They feel socially isolated because of this reason. “The less you are connected with human beings in a deep, empathic way, the less you’re really getting the benefits of a social interaction,” points out Alexandra Hamlet, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. “The more superficial it is, the less likely it’s going to cause you to feel connected, which is something we all need” (miller).
Some researchers believe that depression may be genetic. There are some cases where families have a history of depression. Clinical depression is the most common form of depression. The Stanford School of Medicine approximates 10 percent of Americans will experience this type of depression in their lives at some point. They have found that this type of depression is often shared by siblings or children. Some studies show that if a person has a relative who is suffering from depression then they too may develop it. Some estimates show they are five times as likely to become clinically depressed (Faris). Also, some studies show when children grow up with someone who is depressed, they may become depressed too. They may be more susceptible. The child might mimic their parent or sibling who is depressed in certain situations. They may not realize that their family members behavior isn’t normal, such as seeing them spend days in their bed (Faris). Another factor in genetics, may be gender. Women are more apt to have depression than men. One study estimated that females have a 42 percent chance of depression because of hereditary. In the study, males had a 29 percent chance (Faris). There are also many different theories about how serotonin may be linked to depression. Serotonin is a chemical that our bodies have that aid in brain neuron communication. Researchers have found that it is possible that having an imbalance can lead to depression in the form of mood disorders. They are studying the chemical as a genetic link. There may be a connection to having problems with the serotonin transporter gene (Faris).
A more persuasive argument than genetics is how environmental factors can cause depression in our young adult and youth. (Low income housing)
The first few days after her DUI, the deputy was saddened by some very personal social media posts. A few of those posts showed that her significant other was moving on from her because of the mistake she had made. Before the internet, gossip spread through talking and phone calls, but within minutes, all her social media friends knew personal information about her. She was embarrassed that so many of her coworkers knew about her accident and that all of them would soon know. Then, 2 days later, the story hit the internet on the news and was ‘shared’ on social media. She felt the whole world knew and began to read all the comments from upset people. She felt terrible that she hurt the reputation of the Sheriff’s department. Within minutes her phone lit up, as well as family members getting texts from well-meaning friends. Within moments, 1000’s of her acquaintances knew because it was shared to others.
Pictures were posted on social media that broke her heart because of some of the things and relationships she lost. Without social media, only a few of their family and friends would have known any details. Without social media, maybe she could have coped with all of it. She had talked to her lawyer, had plans on how to move forward, but every time she looked at social media, she took a step back. Without social media, she could have dealt with the consequences privately, and not publicly. Without the effect of social media, maybe she would still be here today.