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Saturday, March 9, 2024
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Ritika Shroff headshot

Opinion: The mental health crisis and the social media crisis are one and the same

Students across the nation are struggling with their mental health. Could there be a sole reason? I think so

The following piece is an opinion and does not reflect the views of The Eagle and its staff. All opinions are edited for grammar, style and argument structure and fact-checked, but the opinions are the writer’s own.

It is no secret that Generation Z has been through a lot — experiencing a pandemic during our most formative years, being just one challenge faced. We were isolated and alone. But we were never truly alone, were we? 

Thanks to social media, we were always connected to our peers, whether that’s good or bad. People of all ages could share their thoughts and feelings online, often without a filter or a second though. Many flocked to social media for some remnant of human connection lost to the pandemic. We were in total isolation, yet we had the world at our fingertips.

But we lost ourselves to the apps. Countless hours of scrolling led to numerous hours of comparing. I’ve seen first-hand that social media is playing a major role in our generation's massive mental health decline. According to the Pew Research Center, 67 percent of teens disclose they use TikTok, 62 percent use Instagram, and 59 percent use or have Snapchat. Pew also tells us that over 50 percent of teens would struggle to give up social media. 

On social media, we see first-hand accounts of world tragedies with no warning. Young adults are seeing extreme violence from war-stricken nations like Ukraine on their feeds through algorithmic decisions, not necessarily by choice

As middle schoolers, we saw on our Instagram uncensored photos of the ‘kids in cages,’ when children were separated from their parents at the border. Those migrant children were living in a completely different world, and we could do nothing about it. Still, we felt for them because we saw them on our feeds.  

Violent and saddening footage pours into social media, and one cannot help but watch it. However, the overload of information contributes to desensitization to world events and becomes a source of anxiety for many. Katie Day Good, an associate professor of strategic communication at Miami University, told the Huffington Post, “Social media can desensitize us to tragedies by presenting us with too much information, information taken out of context, misinformation or disinformation.” We are constantly being shown war zones, humanitarian crises and much worse. It was inevitably going to catch up with us, and it’s happening now. 

However, social media also provides front-seat views of many world events our kids will one day read about in history class. For example, we all could be a part of the landmark 2020 Black Lives Matter movement because of social media. We helped spread petitions and brighten the spotlight on issues many of us had no idea were this massive. Social media is also a platform to teach people how to vote, and educate them on political candidates. While its original purpose was not to be an educational platform, it has become a source for breaking news, activism and grassroots organizing.  

As youths ourselves, what can we do to help save our peers? We can write and call our legislators, but they don’t even understand how to use these platforms, so how can we expect them to regulate them? During the 2023 congressional session, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew faced questions by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where Rep. Richard Hudson from North Carolina’s ninth district asked, “Does TikTok access the home Wi-Fi network?” Chew, flabbergasted, had to explain to a congressman that when a device is connected to Wi-Fi, any app has access to the Wi-Fi network. With such incompetence in our leadership, all we see are issues with no solutions. 

When we look at a mental health crisis, we must look no further than the apps on our phones. But is there any way to stop? Can we limit the use of social media? In theory, yes. But, name one teenager or even adult you could foresee giving up their cell phone and the apps within it. 

We know it's an issue, but we are too obsessed to give it up because that is how the apps are made. To ultimately repair our dependence on social media and the mental health issues that result, we need to recognize and act against the exploitation of these apps.  Next time you find yourself going on a TikTok spiral, put the phone down and go for a walk or get coffee with a friend. The small changes can make the biggest differences. 

Ritika Shroff is a freshman in the School of Public Affairs and a columnist for The Eagle. 

This article was edited by Alana Parker, Jelinda Montes and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Luna Jinks, Isabelle Kravis and Charlie Mennuti.

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