Editor’s note: In this Future View, students discuss mental health. Next week we’ll ask, “Recent shootings have increased calls for gun control again. Should we tighten controls on guns as far as the Second Amendment allows? Should we have a constitutional amendment revoke the original Second Amendment?” Students should click here to submit opinions of fewer than 250 words before May 24. The best responses will be published that night.
A 2018 Pew Research Center Survey found that 95% of teens in the U.S. have access to a smartphone, and 45% of this group are online nearly all the time. This is particularly concerning, given the Mayo Clinic’s analysis of several studies that suggest prolonged and sustained usage of social media puts teens at greater risk of developing mental-health problems.
While this is certainly grim, fortunately this alone is usually not enough to push a young person to commit suicide. Living conditions under the pandemic, however, have allowed stress and anxiety from social media to fester and intensify. Especially during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, many young people who lost time at school filled the void with social media.
Interactions on social media cannot replace real-life communication. Young people are often struggling to figure out who they are regardless of social media. When missing the social life of school, they can begin to feel empty. Eventually if this emptiness is not filled by a return to in-person interactions, young people will rely more and more on social media—which will sustain us only for a limited time before the addiction takes over and causes harm.
—Jesse Hagy, Bates College, environmental studies
Deep Relationships Are the Key
The greatest source of mental-health issues I’ve observed has been isolation and a lack of meaningful relationships.
When something difficult happens in life, people are quick to compare themselves with others. We often feel that those around us are doing better and have everything in order, which is rarely the case, and this tendency is exacerbated by social media. It’s rather easy to see things this way when one is isolated from reality.
Both social and physical isolation contribute to the feelings of loneliness our generation harbors. It’s unfortunate to see people who feel alone turn to social media as an escape, when it provides only a temporary cover. Having a group of companions, especially in person, is the best cure, which can be found among coworkers, classmates, teammates and religious groups.
The root cause of that loneliness, I think, is a decline in religious engagement. From a psychological perspective, religion provides a purpose for one’s life, which leads to greater fulfillment. Without that, it’s easy to become nihilistic and think life is futile. Forming deep relationships and filling the religious void are potential remedies to my generation’s mental-health struggles.
—Zachary Mason, Carnegie Mellon University, electrical and computer engineering
Passion Over Entertainment
Depression and dissatisfaction with life now seems as common as the flu. The U.S. has technology, wealth, medicine and science, but it seems as though people are becoming increasingly dissatisfied. In relationships, physical health, pandemic-related changes, job-related activities, personal finance and housing, we all face commonplace stresses, but when they stack up and are left unresolved, they result in mental-health problems. When the happiness experienced from life’s affairs is less than the sadness, carrying on with the basic functions of life can be painful.
One thing I attribute to feelings of purposelessness is overreliance on technology, including the oversaturation of entertainment and the resulting lack of personal initiative to gain skills and develop passions. The anxious awareness that notifications could ping our phones at any moment makes it all the more difficult to be in the here and now, which increases anxiety and dissatisfaction. If we are to address the growing mental-health issue, each of us needs to learn to be independent of technology and control when we use it. We need to realize the importance of passions, and the danger of the overuse of entertainment.
—Joshua Gammariello, University of Tennessee, business administration
Give the Young a Voice
The interconnectedness of the world has certainly led to an epidemic of mental-health crises the likes of which we could scarcely have imagined in the past. The core of most of these mental-health problems lies in older generations’ dismissive attitudes toward the young. They have created a society in which the young have no voice and must learn to navigate on older generations’ terms rather than their own.
This loss of identity and autonomy has resulted in an environment that fosters perpetual lack of purpose and anxiety, in addition to strong feelings of resentment and longing for change. The only way to break this cycle of self-destruction is to learn from the past and give an actualized, undismissed voice to the youth to work in tandem with the old for a better future.
—Tobias Murphy, New Mexico State University, government
Religion Leads to Better Mental Health
One factor in particular has shown a strong correlation to the mental decline of America’s youth: secularization. Religious practice in the U.S. has been on the decline for some time now, in parallel with an ever-increasing mental-health crisis.
We cannot simply say that one causes the other because they happen simultaneously. We can examine the logical connection between the two, however, which could potentially support a cause-and-effect relationship.
Purpose is at the core of human existence and therefore of human happiness. And where is purpose found? For thousands of years people of all different tribes and tongues have found purpose in religion. Religion yields an existential hope for a future that extends beyond the boundary of death. Even when life is difficult, there is a promise that it isn’t a waste. Secularization douses this hope, reducing it to ashes.
—Andrew Kent, University of Georgia, chemistry
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