We need to build a better road through a culture that harms the mental health of teenagers in Kansas

Kansas Reflector welcomes opinions from writers who share our goal of broadening the conversation about how public policies affect the daily lives of people in our state. Inas Eunice was born in Mosul, Iraq, and emigrated to the United States as a child. She is a writer and commentator who has been widely published in various magazines, websites and anthologies.

When terrible things happen to good people, our first instincts are to formulate grand explanations that alleviate our anxiety and allow us to conclude that “this could never happen to me.” We choreograph our answers and try to move on with our lives. But when the tragedy happened too close to home, we can no longer afford to rely on our safety stories.

When it comes to the horrific statistics of depression and suicide, we’re all amazed, either because we’ve had a major depressive episode and are thinking about ending it, or we know someone who did.

Nearly 47,000 people have died from suicide every year in the United States. In Kansas, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged 15-24, Kansas 15you in the country for the suicide rate.

Traditionally, mental health professionals and politicians have been tasked with identifying and understanding the causes of what we now routinely call Mental health crisis. But a crisis of this magnitude requires all of us to start paying attention.

Many professionals in this field attribute the increase in mental health problems to the COVID-19 pandemic, but according to social psychologist and best-selling author Jonathan Hyde, we need to look back to 2012, not 2020, to understand what is happening. happens.

The National Suicide Prevention Line is a hotline for people in crisis or for those who want to help someone else. To speak to a certified listener, call 800-273 8255.

Crisis Text Line is a text messaging service to support emotional crisis. To speak to a trained listener, send HELLO to 741741. It is free, available 24/7 and confidential.

In fact, just before the pandemic, the rate of depression among teenagers nearly doubled. This sharp rise is not due to the reasons we suspect. This is not due to the desire of young people to self-diagnose, nor to the desire of clinicians to over-diagnose. These are just the safety stories we tell each other.

The data offer us a less reassuring explanation.

A well-known defender of the mental health of teenagers, Hyde testifies before the Subcommittee on Technology, Privacy and Senate Judiciary Law on May 4 that smartphones and social media make a significant contribution to teenage depression and suicide. Between 2012 and 2015, smartphones went from optional to universal among teenagers.

Hyde claims that social media “transformed children’s activity, attention, social relationships and consciousness between 2009 and 2012. According to data until 2015, the mental health centers that serve teenagers and students are overcrowded, and now Hundreds of suicidal teenagers sleep in emergency rooms every night.

Although Hyde does not believe that social media is the only cause of the crisis, he says there is no alternative hypothesis to explain the suddenness and enormity of the problem.

Known for his counter-intuitive sociological findings, renowned social scientist and author Malcolm Gladwell does not directly blame social media, but instead offers us a data point that can give more credence to the social media hypothesis. Gladwell says statistics show that suicide rates in the past have been higher in countries where citizens are described as happy than in those where citizens are described as not very happy.

He summarizes his conclusions by coining the phrase “relative deprivation”, which is the notion that people may feel deprived of something desirable to other people and social groups around them. The phenomenon is facilitated by the widespread use of social media, where teenagers spend hours curated for public consumption and where strangers can literally rate you with clicks and shares.

Gladwell explores this development in his own bestseller book David and Goliath, which applies this theory to high school graduates at the top of their class. He notes that as the heroes of the high school from the small town enter the world of status and influence of the Ivy League, many of them experience a crisis of self-esteem and fail.

After spending their entire lives as a big fish in a small pond, being a small fish in a big pond threatens their image of themselves. Applied to social media, the theory of relative deprivation leads us to conclude that in a world as huge as Instagram, we are all small fish in a big swamp.

Unfortunately, the solution to this is much more complicated than simply restricting or banning the use of social media. Taking away social media when one’s peers use these platforms to organize their social life can make teenagers feel as if they are no longer included in the conversation.

Unfortunately, the solution to this is much more complicated than simply restricting or banning the use of social media. Taking away social media when one’s peers use these platforms to organize their social life can make teenagers feel as if they are no longer included in the conversation.

We need a more nuanced approach that allows socially acceptable ways for teenagers to escape technologies that exacerbate their anxiety and jeopardize their self-esteem.

We need a countercultural movement that causes addiction to these spaces. We need to facilitate the creation of a community culture led by teenagers, which rejects the idea that social interactions should be managed by a third party that seeks to take advantage not of their joy or achievement, but of their anger, anxiety and need for social approval.

It will be decades before we have any solid science identifying the reasons for the jump in suicide rates. Meanwhile, business leaders in the community, like this year Leadership Overland Park class from 2022 took responsibility for leading these difficult conversations and discussing the main issues: Why? Why now? What can we do about it?

Mental health is public health and I am encouraged by these efforts and the work of the newly formed Overland Park or OPCAT crisis teamwhich provides mental health support and information on trauma during emergency calls.

When it comes to the mental health of our teens, some of us may be tempted to refer to the old adage that we should “prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.”

Although adversity can help children develop the skills to recover and triumph in difficult times, we must also recognize that the bromides of the past may no longer be enough. In today’s world, the road is an ever-changing virtual landscape that is algorithmically hostile to healthy development. No one can and should be prepared for this.

Maybe at this point in our history, this is the way to change.

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