Social media affecting mental well-being of youth: Experts

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Excessive exposure to social media is affecting psychological well-being of youths with many of them exhibiting “unusual” behavioural and lifestyle changes that have “wrecked” their education and interpersonal relationships, say experts.

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Psychiatrists at top health institutions in Delhi also say that in most cases people don’t even understand they may be actually affected by it, which is a “cause for worry”.

“Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are like double-edge swords, on the one hand they may have brought a greater sense of democratisation, but on the other, there is the dark side to it too, and many youth are either being harassed on it or becoming addicted to it, leading to psychological problems,” Senior Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Sandeep Vohra told PTI.

Vohra, who practices at Indraprastha Apollo in south Delhi, says the hospital’s Psychiatry Department gets 80-100 case per week, which includes people who are suffering from common psychological disorders like depression and anxiety or severe ones like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

“But we are also getting what is called the Internet addiction disorder and cases where people’s life has been affected because of some issue over the social media.

“Besides, social media has also made the youth more conscious about how they look and there is a constant sense of validation or approval from other around them, affecting their self-esteem and mental well-being,” he says.

Dr Roma Kumar, Child and Adolescent Psychologist at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital cautions that with excessive social media, people, especially the youth are “allowing others to take control of their lives”.

“We had a case in which a 30-year-old man became so obsessed with a girl that he lost 15 kg of weight running after her. He also stalked her on Facebook and Instagram. The family of the man then brought him to us. The girl and her family were stressed out because of this episode,” she says.

Kumar says with celebrities posting on Facebook and tweeting 24×7, youths have become more “misguided into this ‘like-comment-share’ and ‘instant reaction’ culture, where many times people become upset if their friends do not like a post or a picture.

“Besides, many of them are spending inordinate time over Internet and social media, sleeping late night and not communicating with people in real life. This is a dangerous trend. The worry is that many of these youth, do not know that they are exhibiting changed psychological behaviour.”

Doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists and mental health experts globally will join hands tomorrow to mark the World Mental Health Day.

Professor of Psychiatry at AIIMS, Dr Rajesh Sagar says, “It is no doubt that social media is affecting the emotional and psychological well-being of people. But that holds for excessive use of anything. What is needed is proper training for students at school level in judicious use of social media, as we cannot part with technological changes.”

Sharing a case study at Apollo, Vohra says, “Social media is also triggering relationship breakdown in many cases. A 17- year-old girl came to us after she was harassed by her ex- boyfriend over Facebook. So much so that the girl’s family had to file a police complaint against the boy, who has become obsessed with her.”

He says besides triggering anxiety, depression and self- destructing tendencies, social media platforms have also led to people suffering from “body dysmorphic disorder”.

“So we had a 21-year-old girl who was brought to us, who insisted that her nose was imperfect and tried rhinoplasty despite the fact it was alright. Constant bombardment of images on social media, peer pressure and ‘selfie-culture’ has engendered this narcissistic behaviour that borders on psychological disorders,” Vohra says.

Ganga Ram Hospital’s Kumar says she gets “cases where young people especially adolescents come to me complaining they have suicidal tendencies and ask what they should do.

After going through their history, one realises that many of them had some sort of harassment or bullying on social media.”

A 24-year-old Delhi-based professional, who did not wish to be identified, says, “There is this culture of unwanted tagging with nasty posts on Facebook and trolling on Twitter that the social media culture has spawned. I myself have been its victim, so I know.

“Though I think social media is a tool to network and be in touch with people who are far off, but excessive use of it is affecting people in a bad way.”

Vohra says “social media also has become a platform for catharsis for the youth.

“It is an open and free forum, and many of them see this virtual place where they can let out their pent-up emotions or rent anger. Many also post suicide notes on Facebook before claiming their lives, so, it has both pros and cons. And one has to use it judiciously.”

Sagar at AIIMS says, the only way forward is to educate the youth when they are in school. “Just like we do it for cigarettes and alcohol use, I think there should be an education and counselling programme in schools for social media too. Since, we are living in a digital era, we cannot say we should divorce ourselves from social media, but we can learn to adapt it the right way.”

The World Mental Health Day theme by the UN this year is –‘Dignity in Mental Health — Psychological & Mental Health First Aid for All’.

“Social media has taken over real socialisation.

Playgrounds are shrinking and children are more into internet gaming then outdoor sports which is a cause of concern…

Majority of mental health patients don’t seek treatment, just about 10-15 per cent do. That is mostly because of the stigma attached to it,” Sagar says.

(With inputs from PTI)

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