Social media may be a new source of anxiety for college students, but institutions are leveraging it as a way to support those most affected as well.
This year, anxiety passed depression as the most prevalent mental health issue across campuses: about one in seven college students were treated for anxiety in the past year.
Today, studies show that students are more likely to be medicated, feel more pressure to be socially and academically successful, have fewer real relationships, and spent less time socializing as teenagers.
"Social media is a really easy way to feel excluded. Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat make me hyper-aware of the activities I wasn't invited to partake in, and less involved in the activities that are actually in front of me," says Lily Osman, a Franklin and Marshall College student, told the Huffington Post. "Comparing myself to others is blatantly unhealthy."
In eight years, social media usage jumped nearly 1000% among people ages 18 to 29, according to Pew Research Center. About 98% of college-aged students are on social media, according to Experian Simmons, and 27.2% of them spend more than six hours per day on it, according to a national survey by the University of California Los Angeles.
A new study from the University of Missouri found Facebook usage correlated with depression, envy, and anxiety issues.
Students feel the need to reach social—not just academic—perfection now, says Gary Glass, Duke University's associate director of counseling and psychological services.
As more students curate their social media accounts with the perfect images, it becomes difficult to discern between reality and fiction, students say.
"You go on social media and only see the amazing things people are accomplishing but do not see the paths they took to get there. You feel like you aren't doing enough," says Cassidy Bolt, a Duke student, told the Huffington Post.
Reaching students through social media
But colleges and universities are beginning to harness social media to reach the students it most adversely affects.
At some schools, administrators monitor anonymous social media app Yik Yak for posts suggesting a student is in distress. At the University of Michigan in April, the school's social media director Nikki Sunstrum read a suicide note on the app, contacted university police, and found the student within 24 hours. Sunstrum then posted to Yik Yak information about the school's psychological services.
"We are not reinventing the medium [for outreach] and we don't have to at this point, because those resources are already in place," she says.
Even at schools without such monitoring in place, users generally respond to posts about depression with encouraging messages.
Meanwhile, the University of Washington and Facebook partner to develop messages that account holders can send to friends in need of help.
Researchers from Yale University, Virginia Commonwealth University, and the University of Newcastle have all found that delivering personalized messages online or via text can reduce students' alcohol consumption by 13% (Griffin, "HuffPost College," Huffington Post, 7/21; Moran, "Education Lab," Seattle Times, 7/22).
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