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Was Manhattan Mental Health Counseling Right About Social Media?

Was Manhattan Mental Health Counseling Right About Social Media?

Manhattan Mental Health Counseling is a private psychotherapy practice stationed in New York City. One year ago, they issued a warning about the health risks of using social media. This added to the large body of expert advice warning users to limit their social media consumption, or else risk potential emotional disorder related consequences, but since then there has been meta-analytic evidence suggesting otherwise. 

What should you do in the face of mixed results and were they right with their warning?

What Manhattan Mental Health Counseling Said

Natalie Buchwald, the founder of the institution, picked up on the link between smartphone use and an upturn in Major Depressive Disorder across multiple demographics. She says:

“I want to make it clear that I am not demonizing social media. On the contrary, I think it’s a wonderful tool when used in moderation. It’s an excellent means of self-expression, an outlet for new modes of creativity, and a great way to network. That said, our society has never seen anything like it – which is precisely why we need to tread carefully.”

This seems fair enough, she isn’t making the sort of sensationalist claims often made about social media and mental health, but it’s important to understand if there is a risk factor there at all. 

More about Major Depressive Disorder

Major Depressive Disorder, known to psychologists as MDD, has been on the rise in our modern time. At first, scientists were unsure whether it was due to better diagnosis methods and a more supportive culture supporting mental health, but in the past decade the prevalence of MDD has risen even with comparatively few breakthroughs in diagnoses. Awareness of this has consequently shot up. 

Coverage in the media has included lots more about mental health issues and even leading online universities like sbu.edu offer Master’s degrees in mental health counseling, where you learn the essentials needed to help those with a variety of mental health issues. It’s a big deal in our society, but do people fall for the fallacy of blaming disorders upon the growing prevalence on a newfound technology?

The Evidence

Since The Atlantic ran the headline ‘Are smartphones ruining a generation?’ (a title that they subsequently changed) people have been on the lookout for evidence and have been less trusting of newspapers making headlines based on speculation. This is a wise move. 

There was one study Journal of Abnormal Psychology examined evidence which many thought was an alarming increase in depression and suicidality due to social media. The author of the study claimed that though there is no direct evidence, digital media seems a likely culprit. 

This caused an uproar in the scientific community, and one research psychologist responded by saying:

“I have the data set they used open in front of me and I submit to you that, based on that same data set, eating potatoes has the exact same negative effect on depression [as social media use].”

Few studies have done what’s called a longitudinal study, which is needed to justify many causal conclusions about behaviour changes in the long term, but there are many factors that can account for differences in depression that have nothing to do with social media. A study published this year addressed this limitation with a clever technique known as longitudinal cross-lagging. They followed teens and young adults over a number of years and investigated social media use and depression several times. This allowed them to see which actually came first: the depression or the social media use. 

So there’s no strong evidence that social media actually causes Major Depressive Disorder, despite what you may have previously heard. The take-home message is to be careful, and to be aware that if you’re struggling at all from mental health you have many online resources that aren’t social media at your disposal to help. There are online talk rooms, as well as counseling resources that can help you if you don’t have the motivation to get out of the house. 

You should also get plenty of sleep, which is absolutely crucial for physical health as well as mental as it helps to keep the chemicals in your brain in top shape. These chemicals can run out if we don’t sleep enough and can stop us from managing our moods and emotions properly, leading to people feeling depressed or anxious if they’re sleep deprived. A good diet is also really important, you want something high in iron and vitamin B12, which can help fight low moods. 

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