Michael Friedman: World Events as Mental Health Aggravators

April 4, 2019 @ 5:35 pm

In MedPage Today, the host of Social Work LIVE examines recent findings that smartphones and social media are negatively impacting younger generations’ mental health and asserts that social issues and current events bear as much responsibility.

In his latest article, Professor Michael Friedman calls into question new research that blames social media and technology for declining mental health amongst millennials (those aged 22–39) and Gen Zers (15–21). While he acknowledges these as potential factors, Friedman believes the state of the world is at least as much to blame. The article, titled “Is the State of the World Causing More Mental Illness? Social issues might affect a younger generation,” was published March 25 on MedPage Today, a medical news site that reaches 700,000 healthcare professionals. Key takeaways are summarized below.

Increased Mental illness
While some have questioned whether young people’s mental health has actually declined, Friedman highlights several sources and statistics that prove the point, including a 30 percent rise in suicides amongst adolescents and young adults since the year 2000.

Reexamining the Rise
Friedman casts doubt on some prevalent explanations for the surge in mental illness, including deteriorating health services and social determinants such as poverty and violence. Instead, he feels we should listen to young people, who tell pollsters that their mental health challenges are pressed by an overwhelming volume of societal ills, including mass shootings, economic insecurity, and discrimination. Friedman also adds nuclear proliferation, environmental degradation, and the treatment of refugees to that list.

The Social Media Scapegoat
Though young adults report that using social media often makes them feel judged, aggravating their mental health, they also rely on it as a means of support. “So in their experience,” Friedman writes, “social media is a mixed bag.”

The Future of Mental Health
Friedman acknowledges that the scope of global problems affecting young adult mental health may be too wide and complex for mental healthcare practitioners and advocates to take on.

“Nevertheless,” Friedman writes, “long-term improvement of the mental health of our youngest generations may depend on mental health advocates entering the fray to fix the world so that generations to come will have the life we hope for them.”

Read the article in its entirety at MedPage Today.