May is Mental Health Awareness Month, although it hardly takes a dedicated part of the calendar to know that people are struggling these days.
The situation is particularly bad for young people. In the most recent Centers for Disease Control survey, more than 40% of high school seniors reported experiencing persistent feelings of hopelessness or sadness, continuing a worsening trend.
In response to this report, nonprofit group ONE Recovery organized a series of panel discussions using a grant from the LA County Department of Mental Health.
One of the events, which focused on social media and substance abuse, took place at Calabasas High School on May 16.
ONE offers students a space to meet on campus to support each other and practice early intervention through human contact.
“We believe that adolescence is a developmental phase,” said founder Lynne Pedersen. “It’s not a diagnosis.”
Pedersen explained to the audience that times are more difficult for children today than in previous decades – and therefore also for parents.
“Every generation has the opportunity to yell at their parents and say, ‘You don’t get it,'” Pedersen said. “This generation is the first generation to be right. We don’t.”
With social media, the pandemic, the opioid epidemic, and the school shootings, “we’ve created a world where you really don’t feel safe,” she said.
Because of this, many kids want to try it, and they have powerful, isolating ways to do it that weren’t available before — like vaping marijuana products or posting them on social media.
Social media is more than just a questionable coping mechanism, it may itself be a major cause of youth dissatisfaction, panellists suggested.
“Teen mental health has stabilized for decades,” said Don Grant, PhD., a media psychologist (and father of a Calabasas High School grad). “And in 2012. . . We started to see this crazy, crazy increase that we didn’t understand.”
Grant offered a possible explanation: the advent of the iPhone. June 29, 2007 – the release date of Apple’s first generation smartphone – marks the origin of the world in which today’s young people have grown up. That day, Grant said, “The Internet became portable. And I think that changed everything.
. . Now we can all be absent. We all can’t have to talk to people. And the kids could use every bit of it.”
Just as adults were starting to get interested in Facebook, kids were abandoning this early social network and moving on to powerful successors like Instagram and Snapchat. In 2010, the iPhone got a front camera, sparking the selfie revolution. Society was soon filled with altered or otherwise unrealistic images, and the era of “comparing and despairing” had begun.
“We didn’t get it; We didn’t get it,” Grant said of the adults who were allegedly in charge. “We let the kids do it. Have you ever seen children in a playground? It’s called ‘Lord of the Flies’.”
Tech companies harnessed the approval-hungry minds of teenagers to build a massive economy of likes and endorsements.
“And they became our virtual canaries in the digital coal mines,” Grant said.
The child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Ben Gabbay mentioned some of the positive aspects of social media: connecting with people we would otherwise lose touch with; widespread announcement of life events; and support for marginalized groups.
But the time spent on these platforms adds up.
“You scroll, you scroll, and your whole day is over,” said Gabbay, chief physician at Destinations for Teens rehab center. “I said before that social media allows you to feel connected, but for a lot of people it has the opposite effect. It makes you feel more isolated; It makes you feel lonelier.”
Gabbay said when Facebook first rolled out on campus, schools where students had access to the site saw a rise in depressive symptoms, similar to the effects of losing a job or failing classes.
“And that’s continued over time with all the fancy algorithms trying to keep us all tied up and tied up,” Gabbay said, comparing it to a trip to Las Vegas.
Negative effects of social media on teenagers include disrupting sleep and appetite, and promoting self-injurious behavior.
Evolving minds are also vulnerable to today’s stronger marijuana, which Gabbay says causes addiction, depression, and even psychosis.
Ryan Blivas, co-founder of parent-coaching program Key Collective, has called for “a new counterculture” in a world of child smartphone use and widespread weed smoking.
“For your family or our families, that doesn’t mean we have to follow this trend,” Blivas said, “because we see where the trend is going.” It’s spreading in hospitals (and) in our program.”
A parent asked how he could stop his daughter from smoking marijuana, even though he had occasionally smoked a joint in high school, and shared this information with her.
John Lieberman of Visions Adolescent Treatment Centers commended the questioner for his outspokenness and vulnerability.
“The most important thing is to find help,” Lieberman said. “Find someone you can talk to who is a professional.”
“The time to ask for help is when you think it’s time to ask for help,” said Angela Carrillo, co-founder of Brass Tacks Recovery. “Not afterwards — that moment when you feel that deep within your being as a parent, when you know something needs to be done.”