Part of the Hiding in Plain Sight blog series
Written by Hansa Bhargavasata, contributor
Pediatrician and Author CBCT Certified Instructor CMO Medscape
Feb 14, 2023 / Forbes
I was having difficulty connecting with my teen son last week. I realize that this is a familiar parent-adolescent communication issue in general, but it was definitely a change in pattern. I texted him and called him, but he didn’t pick up. After having this go on for a few days, I was a bit irritated. I sat him down to ask what the disconnect (literally) was. Thoughtfully, he looked at me and said “It’s too much- the phone is sometimes too much. Texts, social media notifications, calls- it is overwhelming and I’m tired.” So, he decided that for blocks at a time, he would simply turn on the Do Not Disturb function on his iOS (iPhone Operating System). That way he can actually focus, be engaged in real person-to-person communication, and have moments of peace, aka self-care.
He’s not alone in feeling the anxiety that our phones bring these days. Over the past 4-5 years, there has been increasing research showing the association of social media use with anxiety and depression, particularly in the teenage group. There are many reasons that this could be true; waiting for reactions to posts or checking for “likes” and messages, can trigger the same dopamine response as certain substance dependencies. This can lead to an almost addictive need to check the phone, and 50% of teenagers are constantly on social media. Additionally, many teens use the phone late into the night, and feel the need to check the phone at night for texts as well as notifications. These actions disrupt sleep which can lead to less focus and an increased risk for depression and anxiety.
And 24-hour news can exacerbate our stress and the sympathetic systems “fight or flight” response. Unfortunately, the news cycle elevates mostly bad news, and can often, with algorithms, feed the user more negative news, based on their interests. The “if it bleeds, it leads” principle has led to more stressful news, which is constantly being on top of the feed that we see when we open any news app or email. The result is that consumers that are exposed to media can live in a constant state of fear.
If we are to address mental health from a preventative standpoint, which is as necessary as prevention for physical health such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease or cancer, we need to acknowledge the contributing pillar of media, social media and honestly, the overwhelming stream of information from emails and texts too. This will be essential in any approach to helping solve the mental health crisis.
In the meantime, I’ve taken a page from my son’s approach. This past Sunday, most of the day, my phone was on “Do Not Disturb.”
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About the Author
Dr. Bhargava is a thought leader, writer and speaker on mental health in families and healthcare workers and has spoken at International Society for Pediatric Innovation, GA Tech Innovation Day, as well as at the International Congress of Pediatrics as well as participated in talks with Former First Lady Michelle Obama and UNICEF roundtables. At WebMD, she produced the Resiliency Medscape series ‘The Doctors Dilemma of Overcoming Burnout’, is currently teaching a resiliency course at the Emory University Medical School and has authored the book ‘Building Happier Kids’. In a broader philanthropic role, Dr Bhargava has been on the regional UNICEF Board, and is on the Advisory Board for the Christopher Wolfe Crusade for prevention of opioid addiction. She is board certified in Pediatrics and a favorite role is to be a mom to two teen kids in Atlanta.
The Forbes.com Well Beings Blog is a series that addresses critical topics around the health, mental health, and well-being of America’s youth and adults. The blog launched in 2020 as a companion to the Well Beings Youth Mental Health Project and Ken Burns Presents Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness, A Film by Erik Ewers and Christopher Loren Ewers (PBS.org/plainsight | WellBeings.org/plainsight), which is now streaming on the PBS app. #WellBeings #WellBeingsLive
The current series of articles addresses creativity, resilience, and well-being among America’s youth. It is part of the Student Journalism Challenge produced by PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs and powered by the XQ Institute. The challenge celebrates young people’s creative expression, encouraging students ages 13-18 to tell their own stories of their communities and their education by contributing print, video, and audio pieces on the theme, “My Education, My Future.” Submissions will be evaluated by a diverse roster of professional journalists.
You are not alone. If you or someone you know is in crisis, whether they are considering suicide or not, please call the toll-free National Suicide Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) to speak with a trained crisis counselor. If you don’t want to talk on the phone, you can also text. Crisis Text Line offers free mental health support. Text “10-18” or “SCRUBS” to 741741 for help. The call and text lines are open 24 hours a day.