NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Parents, how many hours do your kids spend on social media? Most teenagers spend about three hours on Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat, which may be harmful in ways you haven’t considered.
Some teens use social media platforms to diagnose themselves with various mental and developmental disorders.
“I think a lot of times, especially for our younger population, it’s hard to put into words how you’re struggling,” said Cristina Meehan, owner of Liberty Integrated Behavioral Health in New Britain and a psychiatric nurse practitioner. “So, when you’re watching a video, and you have somebody who is identifying some of these symptoms that you might also be having, that’s putting words into an area you might be uncomfortable with and helping to identify.”
Dr. Andre Newfield, a psychiatrist and psychiatric administrator with Hartford HealthCare, believes social media has helped destigmatize various disorders. However, more acceptance can make mild symptoms seem more severe as not all mental concerns are a disorder.
“We have seen waves and trends of kids coming in, where it’s clear that they’ve logged on and gotten some ideas about what their diagnosis might be,” Newfield said. “Sometimes they do latch on to things that may not otherwise be accurate because they are trying to fit in. There’s an aspect that feels good about that, and there’s an aspect that is somewhat dangerous as well.”
Patients have come in, identifying themselves with autism, ADHD and bipolar. Being labeled with these disorders can have a negative connotation. However, Newfield argues that labels may help explain certain challenges and behaviors.
“A label isn’t necessarily a negative thing if it can explain what’s going on and give some understanding of how we go about helping this individual navigate the challenges that might be presented for them,” Newfield said.
With a stigma surrounding mental health and other disorders, it can be challenging for parents to accept their child may have a problem and need help. As a mom and bipolar patient, Libby Briggs knows the importance of support.
“I think the support of your family, especially as a young person, is so significant,” Briggs said. ” Just to feel that support is going to empower them to want to seek treatment and want to embrace treatment, which can be hard and scary.”
Briggs has struggled with mental health issues since junior high. She said she found that her symptoms became more severe about two years after the birth of her son. She had trouble articulating the severity of her symptoms until she found Mark Carroll, a fitness influencer who shared more than a workout plan.
Briggs said she sought treatment at Liberty Integrated Behavioral Health, where she was diagnosed with Bipolar II. She stressed the importance of seeking a proper diagnosis through a mental health provider.
In relation to the self-diagnosing dilemma many health professionals face, Cristina Meehan embraces patients researching their symptoms. Still, she said too much research could lead to an incorrect perception of one’s mental health, which adds to stress and anxiety.
She also warned of symptom overlap. For example, some symptoms found in ADHD patients can also relate to anxiety or depression, possibly leading to a misdiagnosis.
Newfield suggested with more mental health acceptance, teens could be more responsive to peer influence.
If you or your teenager use social media to help identify symptoms, seeking professional advice and potential diagnosis is best.