When I wrote about Ask.fm last week, it turns out I was barely scratching the surface about what teenagers are doing online these days. Not a surprise, obviously, but the more I read, the more alarmed I become. There’s a great deal going on with teens, depression, and social media.
According to a recent article in The Atlantic, a new trend (particularly among teenage girls, four times more likely than boys) is to set up Tumblr blogs glorifying everything from self-harm to anorexia to suicide. The photo on the left there is a screen shot from a Tumblr search for “self-harm.” There are hundreds of results, mostly in black and white, many showing arms and legs with hundreds of cuts from self-cutting.
It’s disturbing as hell.
The article suggests it might be so trendy to have a romantic idea of self-harm that some kids are claiming this sort of depression without actually having depression, but instead embracing a “beautiful sadness.”
This online cultivation of beautiful sadness is easy to join: anyone can take a picture, turn it black and white, pair it with a quote about misunderstood turmoil, and automatically be gratified with compassion and pity. And this readily accessible sea of dark poetry could easily drown out those whose suffering has reached the clinical level. During the vulnerable years during which adolescents seek out self-affirmation and recognition from others, this new, easy promise of being recognized as strong, beautiful, and mysterious by Tumblr “followers” can be very tempting, says Dr. Mark Reinecke, chief psychologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Too often, it just leads to more teenagers believing and feeling they are depressed, self-pitying, self-harming.
There’s no doubt that kids get depressed during the teen years; being a teenager is hard and can definitely contribute to depression. And social media depression is a problem as well. But on the flip side of the bad news is the fact that many people use social media as a coping tool when they struggle with depression, too. I’ve witnessed it personally dozens of times, and an article in The Guardian by Dr. Tim Anstiss highlights this as well.
Online chat, discussion and support provides many other benefits to depressed people – feelings of connectedness, not being judged, reassurance that things can and do get better over time, or that the painful or empty feelings of depression can be tolerated.
Social networks have emerged as an accessible platform on which people are able to connect with like-minded individuals.
But the “beautiful sadness” trend is alarming. Parents can help, though, according to Dr. Michael Strober, a clinical psychologist and senior consultant to the Pediatric Mood Disorders Program at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute (from an article in Psych Central).
“Teens who are suffering from depression can be helped,” Rubenstein said, so it’s important to get them treatment. If you think your teen has depression, seek a psychologist who specializes in treating adolescents. It’s key to see an expert. As Rubenstein said, “you wouldn’t hire a plumber to put on your new roof.” Even if your teen doesn’t want to go to therapy or you haven’t discussed the option yet, an appointment is critical. A psychologist can educate you on depression (also consider checking out sources on your own), how to help and give you the tools you need.”
If you think your teenager is struggling, seek help. It works.