Walgreens and Mental Health America recently announced the launch of a collaborative, back-to-school campaign to help address the biggest contributors to youth mental health issues. Together, they have created a toolkit to help support parents, teachers and students in outlining healthy practices for teens and adolescents.
A special focus in the new toolkit addresses the potentially detrimental effects of social media on the mental health of American youth. The toolkit offers insight into how youth can best navigate virtual spaces and provides resources to screen students for a range of mental health conditions.
This resource comes at an opportune time. According to the CDC’s Bi-Annual Youth Risk Behavior Survey that gathered ten years’ worth of data from 2011-2021 amongst high school students in the United States, 57% of teen girls and 29% of teen boys experience persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness. The survey also found that 30% of teen girls have seriously considered suicide, while the percentage for teen boys was not as dramatic but still worrisome at 14%.
Holly May, global chief human resources officer at Walgreens, states in a one-on-one interview, “We understand youth are using social media and we’re proud to partner with MHA on this important initiative. We’re committed to addressing the most pressing needs in healthcare and our communities today, and in the toolkit, we focus on how to find balance, how to use social media in a way to uplift students and improve social isolation.”
Schroeder Stribling, president and CEO of Mental Health America, also adds, “There can be positives of social media use. We aim to harness the benefits while mitigating risks. Youth that use social media to focus on forming and investing in healthy relationships might feel more connected and have a sense of belonging, especially if they struggle to find it in school or at home. For caregivers, we offer tips to support youth, like encouraging them to take social media breaks. For educators, we provide resources for teacher training and information on how to screen for mental health issues among youth. By screening, we can identify issues earlier and provide immediate support.”
Social media usage has become ubiquitous amongst American youth. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 90% of teens aged 13-17 have used social media, and teens are online on average nine hours per day, not including time spent on homework.
There is no doubt that social media offers unique opportunities for youth and students to connect with each other, share important information as well as express themselves. Just as there are benefits, drawbacks include the potential for addiction and large amounts of time spent on social media, cyberbullying and the propensity to engage in social comparison that can lead to both anxiety and depression.
A 2019 research study based on population data from the UK Millennium Cohort Study published in the Journal of eClinicalMedicine found a strong association between increased social media use and low self-esteem and high depressive symptom scores.
Stribling states, “Teens and adolescent are important groups that can really benefit from this toolkit. Youth that are part of marginalized communities can also be positively impacted by the toolkit since they are at greater risks for poor mental health outcomes.”
Stribling then adds, “As a society, we are only just learning what the long-term impacts of social media can have on our youth. This toolkit is a first step and a start in addressing mental health issues in American schools.”
To date, there have been over 28,000 views of the toolkit on the Mental Health America website with over 10,000 downloads.
This toolkit that is widely available at no cost for schools to engage with offers webinars, screening information, educational content regarding mental health as well as resources for students to seek help should they suffer from mental health issues and disorders.
May states, “We want to meet youth where they are, and listen actively to their needs.”