The silent epidemic - Impact of social media on young Indians
The power of a tool is only as good as how we use it. It is imperative to address the systemic and current challenges to regulate social media use, especially restricting it for pre-teens.
Social media has become a daily habit in most people’s lives. Individuals across different age groups use social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter for communication and networking, and Indians spend approximately 2.4 hours of a day on social media alone. Young individuals aged 18-24 years spend excessive time on these applications – with Facebook and Instagram having 97.2 million and 69 million users from this age group alone in India, clearly showcasing growing facebook addiction and instagram addiction. The constant use leads to exposure to risky content, changes in behavioural patterns, feeling of inferiority and even cyberbullying, resulting in grave mental health challenges and illnesses.
The discussion on mental health in India is not addressed seriously, and faces stigma and neglect. While challenges faced by the youth are manifold, there is an underlying practice of brushing issues under the carpet, inability to voice opinions and seek support, leading to grave personal issues. According to UNICEF, 1 in 7 Indians aged 15 to 24 years feel depressed. Depression is linked to lack of self-esteem, poor concentration and other maladaptive symptoms, and can lead to difficulties in communication, failure to work or study productively, amplified risk of substance use and abuse, as well as suicidal thoughts. One of the key risk factors for these prevalent rates of depression is facebook addiction and instagram addiction.
As social beings, humans inherently have a need for belonging and social acceptance, and social media often becomes a tool for validation. The number of likes one’s posts or images garners becomes a quantitative measure for many, in relation to their looks, intelligence, and even extends to their worth as a person. Individuals strive to maintain an ‘internet persona’ which paints a rosy picture of one’s life, using filters to hide parts considered ‘not good enough’.
Instagram leads to body image issues by developing an intrinsic urge for comparison. This is felt worse by women & young girls who are often socialised into prioritising their looks over other features. A study found that around 32% of teenage girls reported that Instagram made them feel worse.’
The power of a tool is only as good as how we use it. It is imperative to address the systemic and current challenges to regulate social media use, especially restricting it for pre-teens and teenagers. We must also take action on mental health seriously and monitor the incidence of psychiatric disorders and identify the factors of risk and resilience.
However, the first focus needs to be on creating awareness and dialogue that would help in de-stigmatising the issue, in order to allow autonomy for the individual to share feelings in a safe space. Support systems like family and peers, need to be equipped with understanding the factors r lated to the issue and initiate supportive steps.