(Good Things Utah) May is Mental Health Awareness Month and it is a good time to refocus on mental health.  Over the last ten years or so we have seen a steady increase in the need for mental health and substance use treatment services. Then we add in a global pandemic and many social issues rising to the surface. 

COVID changed a lot of things for people and exacerbated the mental health needs of so many. It has been associated with uncertainty, school closures, shutdowns, social isolation, and economic vulnerability— these stressors can be linked to mental health issues.  

Social Media and Mental Health

There are a lot of questions about how social media use impacts mental health, particularly for kids and teenagers.

There has been many studies looking at the impact of ‘screen time’ on health and well-being –some of which have conflicting findings. It is important when addressing the issue of screen time and social media to not approach it as an all or nothing issue, according to Kim Myers, MSW, a social worker and behavioral health clinical program manager at Intermountain Healthcare.

“Research shows the best-adjusted teens are not those who never use screens, but those who use screens for a limited amount of time,” said Myers. 

Excessive screen time has been associated with lower psychological well-being, including less curiosity, lower self-control, more distractibility, more difficulty making friends, less emotional stability, being more difficult to care for, and inability to finish tasks, Myers added. 

Adolescents who are in the highest range of users were more than twice as likely to ever have been diagnosed with depression or ever diagnosed with anxiety treated by a mental health professional.

“This becomes even more pronounced when the screen time is social media use which is most strongly linked to unhappiness, especially for girls, with nearly each hour of use increasing likelihood and level of unhappiness,” Myers noted. 

Social media sites are designed to keep users online as long as possible, so it’s very important for parents and guardians to set clear rules and guidelines around use if they are going to use social media.  

Tips for social media guidelines for teens:

• Set rules and guidelines for social media use

• Use parental controls to limit time allowed on social media (many experts suggest one-hour limits)

• Monitor social media use and content

• Ensure time is prioritized for healthy activities like exercise

• Prioritize in person socializing, whenever possible 

• Protect sleep with no screens in bedrooms after lights out

It is also important to understand the impact of social media use on your child  

Some questions you may ask include:

• How does my child feel about the time they spend online? 

• Is my child engaging because they want to, or because they feel like they have to be online? 

• How can I create space for open conversations with my child about their experiences online?

• How do I feel about my own use of technology? Can I be a better role model for my child?

Like most topics related to good health, the message around screen time and mental health is moderation, Myers noted. 

“We don’t need to give up screens completely, we just need to moderate use and engage in the behaviors we know promote good mental health like exercise, social connection and engagement with treatment when problems do arise,” said Myers. 

Even before the pandemic, mental health disorders were common. Nearly 1 in 5 American adults live with behavioral health disorder. Lifetime prevalence of mental health disorders among adolescents has increased to over 50%. 

Local data in Utah shows that 50% of Utah youth have moderate to high behavioral health treatment needs. We also know that, on average, there is a 11-year gap between the onset mental health disorder symptoms and the time people seek or get into treatment.  

“It is so important to get into care as soon as possible. Mental health problems are the norm, most people experience them at some point in their lives and the most common outcome is recovery. Treatment works,” said Myers. 

To address this Intermountain Healthcare is dedicated to enhancing access to behavioral health care over the next few years. For support navigating behavioral health services you can call Intermountain’s Behavioral Health Navigation Line at 833-442-2211.   

“In addition to treatment resources, we as a community need to invest in prevention and early intervention strategies that includes learning problem solving and coping skills, relationship and communication skills, good sleep strategies and moderation of media consumption, including social media. 

Resources:

If you want to speak to someone, you can call Intermountain Healthcare Behavioral Health Navigation Line at 833-442-2211.  

The Intermountain Behavioral Health Navigation Service is a new service provided by Intermountain and designed to help the community find the resources that they need. 

The Intermountain Behavioral Health Navigation services is a singular phone number where you can call in and speak with caregivers in our organization to be directed to the right service, and as needed scheduled with an appointment, or referred to Intermountain’s Behavioral Health Connect Care, which is a new service virtual service working to address needs for people or the loved ones in real time.

For more information, visit intermountainhealthcare.org.



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