There is a loneliness epidemic amongst our youth that only seems to be increasing. High school seniors who reported they often felt lonely rose from 29% in 2012 to 39% in 2017. With the simultaneous rise in social media, students are becoming less social in real life because of their virtual friends which is making them very lonely. Despite social media's claims of increasing social connection, several studies show the opposite: the more time one spends on social media, the lonelier they feel.
Communicating with friends over social media does not have the same effects as listening and connecting with friends in real life. Our brains can tell the difference between online and real life friendships; however, the addictive nature of social media usage and networking might drain our capacity and time to interact with friends in real life. Social media can leave youth unprepared for real life relationships, because it drains their capabilities from spending time with friends and learning social-emotional skills.
This article presents a case study of a teenager struggling with loneliness. It hilights some common symptoms for people to watch for and how the teen is finding help through using a digital mental health app.The case study involves a fictitious identity; any resemblance to a real person is completely coincidental.
Emily is withdrawn, and seems down. In her classes, she is disengaged and never participates even during group discussions. During lunch, she usually sits by herself, on her phone watching TikTok or commenting on her virtual friends' Instagram posts. She compulsively checks to see if she has new Snapchats from her virtual boyfriend whom she has never met. She wants to stay connected to him so she can post about her 6 month anniversary to her social media followers. Even though she wants to sit with friends at lunch, she feels like she won’t fit in because they post about their friendships online when she isn’t invited.
Although Emily has many social media followers and gets a lot of likes on her posts, she feels lonely and like she doesn’t have any real connections with people. Emily doesn’t know how to be social in real life because all of her time is spent using social media instead of engaging with friends and family because she feels awkward whenever she isn’t on her phone. Emily spends most of her nights alone in her room instead of initiating social events with her peers, as a result she feels depressed and lonely. She wants to find meaning in life through relationships but doesn’t know where to start. Emily's mom wants her daughter to go out and have fun with friends instead of being on her phone all of the time, so she suggests that Emily try the digital mental health app, Neolth.
Neolth is an app that helps students develop positive mental health habits including breaking the cycle of problematic social media usage through social-emotional learning workshops, relaxation practices, and education, stigma-reducing content.
Neolth can help students like Emily feel less alone in their struggles through Student Stories about others' experiences with loneliness. Social-emotional learning workshops can help students build social skills that lead to increased feelings of connectedness offline. Neolth's personalized mental health support enables Emily to find a plan that works for her: using journaling and meditation to process her anxiety and loneliness, watching videos of other students who have struggled with the same things and got through it, and scheduling self-care practices into her daily routine.
Through the app, Emily discovers what works best for her and finds herself spending more time on Neolth than on social media. She learns the value of healthy in-person relationships through a video series and live event hosted by Neolth's team of experts. This, coupled with her daily meditation practices, helps her build the confidence participate in class again and sit with friends during lunch. The video series Emily watches also encourages her to speak to her school counselor to work through her feelings of loneliness in more depth, and to share her learnings with her friends.
In just 8 weeks, Emily's stress and anxiety have reduced using Neolth as a support on her journey. She's rekindled many relationships with her friends and continues to work with her counselor and use Neolth to cope with the pressures and draw of social media. She's learned to set boundaries with her virtual friends and boyfriend and now mostly communicates via text or call rather than social media apps. Neolth has helped empower Emily to take her life back with the additional support of a licensed counselor.
Neolth was built by healthcare and education professionals, in partnership with 250 students. Neolth’s comprehensive digital platform provides stress and mental health support by delivering on-demand, personalized care through their self-guided program. Learn more in this 2-minute explainer video or by contacting our team of education professionals at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Authors:
Khrystina Warnstadt (she/her) is the Outreach & Engagement Specialist at Neolth and an MSW student at the University at Buffalo, SUNY. While earning her BA and CGS from the University at Albany, SUNY, she discovered a passion for mental health, equity, and accessibility. Her passions led her to her work at Neolth, as well as with organizations such as Planned Parenthood, the NY Birth Control Access Project, and NAMI. She works with Neolth to bring mental health support to students worldwide and empower students to share their stories and eradicate the stigma around mental health.
Ginger Freeman (she/her) is an Editorial intern at Neolth and a senior at Santa Clara University studying Psychology, Public Health, and Asian Studies. Once she graduates, she plans to pursue a masters in counseling to become a licensed therapist. She is passionate about making mental health care more accessible and personalized, as well as applying zen theory to traditional psychotherapy. Through starting the conversation around mental health she hopes to reduce stigma and help people feel less alone! Outside of school, she enjoys spending time outside with friends, hot yoga, meditation, and listening to live music.