The majority of young adults use some sort of social networking site. They go on Facebook or Twitter to plan activities with friends, keep in touch with family members, and maintain relationships with people near and far. Research on the pros and cons of social networking sites has provided conflicting results. Some evidence suggests that these virtual relationships limit social skills and virtual friendships take the place of in-person interactions. Isolation, depression, and anxiety can be exascerbated by increased social networking activity. Other research suggests the opposite, stating that this type of interaction can actually strengthen existing bonds and open up new channels of communication, broadening one’s social circle. But until now, few studies have examined how social networking sites affect young adults with mental health issues.
Kris Gowen of the Research and Training Center at Portland State University in Oregon wanted to explore this topic. In a recent study, Gowen conducted an online survey of 207 young people with psychological issues and asked them what type of sites they visit, what they would want in a site devoted to people with mental health concerns, and how social networking sites enhanced or detracted from their quality of life. Gowen found that almost all of the participants did use social networking venues. “Our findings also indicate that the vast majority of young adults in this sample believe that social networking reduces social isolation,” said Gowen. In fact, they stated that use of these sites helped them plan activities with people and provided resources that allowed them to become more engaged with others.
The participants also reported that ideal social networking sites would give them information about how to live independently and how to address issues that they face as a result of their mental health issues. Surprisingly, the people with mental illness more often requested sites that would allow them to help other individuals, rather than sites that would only benefit themselves. Clinicians working with people who have mental health concerns should be aware of what sites are most common and which ones could be most useful for their clients. They should also help their clients understand the risks associated with social media, such as being exposed to cyber-bullying and violent content. This study demonstrated that not only are young people, with and without mental health issues, actively using a broad range of social media; but also that social networking sites, especially those tailored to meet specific social and psychological needs, can be very beneficial to young adults with mental health conditions.
Gowen, Kris, Matthew Deschaine, Darcy Gruttadara, and Dana Markey. Young adults with mental health conditions and social networking websites: Seeking tools to build community. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal 35.3 (2012): 245-50. Print.
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