Cape Town – Increased participation in social media networks, including Facebook and Instagram, was associated with increased psychological distress in young people, with the effects almost twice as severe among young girls, according to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag)
Sadag has highlighted the effects of social media ahead of World Mental Health Day, which will be marked on Thursday.
World Mental Health Day aims to spread global mental health education, awareness and advocacy.
Sadag said it noted that teenage girls were affected by social media use more than boys, with the harmful effects being driven by three factors: frequent use of social media harmed their health by leading to inadequate sleep; inadequate physical activity; and exposing them to cyberbullying.
About 9% of all teenage deaths in the country are by suicide, Sadag pointed out, adding that suicide was the second leading and fastest-growing cause of death among young South Africans in the 15-25 age group.
Sadag’s operations director Cassey Chambers said 90% of adolescents who die by suicide have an underlying mental illness, which was frequently depression.
While some do have a genetic tendency towards depression, others develop it as a result of loneliness and social isolation, bullying, loss, abuse, and conflict, she said.
And there’s a catalyst that this generation is having to contend with - social media.
Meanwhile, the MySociaLife, South Africa’s premier social media and online safety educator, is seeing the effects of social media first-hand as it engages with teens and tweens about their online life during their 10-module schools programme.
MySociaLife founder Dean McCou- brey said: “Pupils in every programme we run tell us about the pressure they feel around life online, and many agree that it bends their character or values, leading to inappropriate or out of character behaviour.
“This age group is not adequately equipped to manage the complexity of the varied risks, temptations and dangers online.
“When parents and teachers under- stand the development stages of children and how these devices and platforms influence their neurochemistry at this vulnerable and immature stage, we can all start to grasp why this is happening,” McCoubrey said.
The detrimental effects of social media can be reduced by educating not only teens and pre-teens, but also parents, teachers and school counsellors, he said.
“World Mental Health Day gives parents and children the opportunity to start conversations about mental illness, emphasising that there is no shame in struggling with mental health, while re-establishing those vital real-life connections.
“With 75% of teen suicides having spoken about their intention before proceeding, there’s a strong possibility that parents, teachers and friends who listen carefully to depressed teens might indeed be able to act in time to save a life,” McCoubrey said.