To put this data into perspective, there are currently 31,242 students enrolled at Virginia Commonwealth University. Following the percentages given by this infographic:
- 9,653 students will feel so depressed it’s difficult to function.
- 5,933 students will experience overwhelming anxiety.
- 2,343 students will seriously consider suicide.
An estimated 15 million Americans suffer from an anxiety disorder. According to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State, “Anxiety and depression, in that order, are now the most common mental health diagnoses among college students” (Scelfo 3). For the people who suffer from these illnesses, everyday social interaction becomes debilitating. As technology has continued to expand over the years and opportunities for more manageable and effortless communication have developed, it has become more and more common for students to resort to social media as a substitution for traditional face-to-face interaction. It fosters a haven for anxiety ridden individuals to experience communication skills without the burden that real life conversation entails.
Regardless, online connections are not intended to work as a crutch for interpersonal growth. But, we see it all the time. According to an article by The Huffington Post, “College students today are more detached from their peers than ever before. Research shows they’re less likely to have tangible relationships; enter college having spent less time socializing as teens; are more likely to be heavily medicated; and feel a greater pressure to be academically and socially successful than in the past” (Griffin 1). Constant social media use gives students a false sense of relationships by providing a distorted perception of closeness and, in the process, halting growth in face-to-face scenarios. We are facing a social disintegration.
Despite the growing prevalence of social media as a driving force of students’ lives, little research has actually been done on the correlation between usage and mental illness. However, it is clear that extensive use of any technological platform could result in unfavorable repercussions; especially one so readily available to youth. “If we are glued to technology 24/7, it’s going to have an effect on social skills—it’s just natural,” says Tamyra Pierce, a journalism professor at California State University (Ossola 1). Pierce has conducted several studies to examine the link between social media use and anxiety disorders. In one study, she asked students how frequently they used socially interactive platforms, and then examined how comfortable they felt in face-to-face interaction. The results proved her theory correct; the more time students spent online, the more likely they were to exhibit symptoms of social anxiety.
This development prompted the professor to question something, a sort of “chicken and egg” problem: was it the use of technology that created a heightened sense of anxiety in students, or has social anxiety driven the large-scale use of social media? Regardless of the order, it’s evident that young adults today are beginning to rely on their connections with the virtual world. Rather than creating in-person relationships, it seems that the use of digital communication is becoming a crutch – crippling students’ ability to develop socially. Still, contrary to the theory that social media is thwarting student success, it would be a disservice to take away all online interaction.
“It’s not a matter of use or no use, it’s what kind of use,” [Pierce] says. “We can’t lose the social skills, we can’t lose the technology—we have to have both. We have to go back to that balance.” (Ossola 6)
It seems that there are two types of people nowadays; those who complement their lives with the use of social media, and those who replace all interpersonal communication with it’s online counterparts. An attractive aspect of social media for a lot of people is that there is little to no commitment to relationships made online. The flexibility of being able to start and end a conversation with someone at any given point in time is unmatched elsewhere. More simply, however, more time spent online means less time utilized in real life. It is so simple to fall victim to the security blanket one creates for themselves. It is absolutely necessary to realize that quality social interaction does exist beyond a screen; most likely even more so than online. The key is to stay mindful.