The Loneliness of the Long Distance Blogger

A AW

It’s possible that we are addicted to Social Media because our brains have evolved to make us that way!

Hard to believe? We are creatures that crave company [at least most of us] and have a deep-seated need to engage and converse with others. So it’s why to see that social media has proved so popular – because it allows us to gossip on a larger scale than ever before. Texting, emailing and twittering just might be the result of an uncontrollable urge to communicate!

So why, when there’s easy access to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, are some social media obsessed teenagers lonely?

A report commissioned by the National Citizen Service Trust and carried out by Kings College, London and led by Dr Jennifer Lau involved 1,000 teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17. The researchers found 60% of teens said they were lonely and one in 20 said they never spent time with friends outside school.

Girls were generally lonelier than boys, but a worrying third of all respondents said they rarely felt popular with their friends. Partly, this may be due to the number of celebrity Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds available at any time of the day or night for young teens to peruse at their leisure. A lot of young girls avidly follow their idols and many must wish they were as popular as the Kardashians. But the great fear is that these teens are at risk of developing mental health issues later in life.

There is a direct correlation between lack of social integration and loneliness amongst young people. Quite apart from the human scale of the problem, there is also the potential cost of future healthcare and its effect on the economy.

Some teenagers have such poor social skills that they positively fear meeting new people. Some deliberately make excuses not to interact with people face to face. A few refuse even to answer the telephone and are thrown into paroxysms of fear if the door bell rings. Low self-esteem is a common factor and hinders teenager’s progress toward independence. It can result in anxiety – if it emerges in adolescence and isn’t treated, there can be lifelong repercussions.

Interacting on a face-to-face basis with one’s peers is the only effective way of learning the skills that get us through life and will be crucial in the workplace. Good social skills are important to future potential employers, but it is during our early development, that we learn what’s a joke, what’s not a joke, as well as the boundaries which define acceptable behaviour.

Logan Annisette, a psychologist at the Windsor University in Ontario, Canada, thinks that social media, which is disproportionately used by younger people, could also be making young people immoral.

Frequent use of ultra-brief social media is associated with negative effects on the user’s ability to engage in reflective thought (the research shows they are less likely to do this) and this could affect moral judgement because they are less aware of the effects of their own actions and the effect of these actions on others.

There is a possibility that at least in the short term, it could lead to a decline in academic performance and increased difficulty in the formation of relationships – two extremely important issues for teenagers and young adults – the very generation that text and twitter the most. The implications of this are not yet clear – we will have to monitor a generation as they grow up and enter adulthood.

Social media has become an integrated component of human interaction. With its increased use, there are real concerns that Internet Addiction is becoming a major cause of depression.

South Korea, China and Japan all run special government sponsored programmes designed to wean computer-addicted teenagers away from their virtual existence and back into the real world.

New research from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine has revealed that the more time young adults spend using social media, the more the likelihood they will suffer from depression. More than a quarter of people who spend more than an hour a day on social media sites reported having higher than normal incidences of depression.

The researchers claim that social media sites might be fuelling Internet addiction, a proposed new psychiatric condition that is rapidly becoming connected to depression. Worse, it might be that people who are already depressed might be compensating for the emptiness in their lives by spending more time on social media than is good for them.

Clinicians worry that people who are already depressed may be entering a cycle of depression because they are adversely influenced by the unrealistic posts of others whom at first glance at least appear to lead more fulfilled and exciting lives, eliciting feelings of envy. And that doesn’t take into consideration the effects of possible cyber-bullying.

Some social media sites have already taken steps to help users who may be depressed. Search words like ‘depressed, suicide, feeling low’ are automatically redirected to a message that begins ‘Everything OK?’ and then provides users with links to resource sites which may then be able to provide help. Facebook is currently testing a feature where users can anonymously report worrying posts, followed with a pop-up window encouraging them to talk to friends or call a helpline.

Incidences of depression are irrespective of the amount of time spent online or the frequency of visits. Compared with those who checked least frequently, participants who checked social media accounts most often were 2.7 times more likely to suffer depression.

Similarly, compared to peers who spent less time on social media, participants who spent the most time on social media were nearly twice as likely to suffer depression. The figures were arrived at after the researchers factored out other things that might cause depression, including relationship status, living conditions, employment, income etc.

Internet addiction may be an indication of more severe psychological issues. This relatively new obsession with social media fuels depression, anxiety, impulsiveness, and short attention span.

24 hour connectedness is indeed socially acceptable, but two separate studies warn that we need to be more vigilant about the way people – particularly teenagers! – use the internet. In particular, parents and teachers need to be on the look out for signs of desperation and anger.

In one of the studies, a team of psychiatrists headed by Dr Michael Van Ameringen monitored 254 undergraduates at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. They found 33 were addicted to the internet, and 107 were on the spectrum.

Those who were addicted were unable to extract themselves from social network sites, impulsively watching streamed videos and messaging friends. They also struggled to efficiently carry out their daily routine, falling into dips of depression, failing to pay attention, and failed to manage their time efficiently.

A second study, conducted by Dr Jan Buitelaar, professor of psychiatry at Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre in the Netherlands claims that excessive use of the internet may disguise mild or severe psychopathology – excessive use of the internet may be strongly linked to compulsive behaviour and addiction.

Both studies represent a key step forward in understanding mental illness in the 21st century.

The big social media companies might find themselves having to exercise a little more social conscience than simply being asked to pay their fair share of corporation tax.

Copyright Andrew Newton 2016. All rights reserved.