You may think they are the future, but the future doesn’t interest them much. One in five school students says that life is not worth living, according to the Fortis Healthcare’s teen suicide survey, conducted among 2,364 school students aged between 13 and 19.
“The survey underscores the loneliness in the Facebook and smartphone era, where teens are connected and yet isolated because of the superficiality of status updates,” says Dr Samir Parikh, director, department of mental health and behavioural sciences, Fortis Healthcare.
While social-networking does not directly lead to isolation or depression, it helps mask it. “Who can imagine that a teenager with 500 Facebook friends is lonely? But they can be, because social media is about venting and cannot replace empathy,” Parikh adds.
Often, emotional turmoil among teens is dismissed as mood swings. “In such cases, status updates are a cry for help,” says Dr Rajesh Sagar, additional professor, department of psychiatry, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).
This holds true globally. In the US, 30% of status updates by 200 students at the University of Washington and the University of Wisconson-Madison met the American Psychiatric Association’s criteria for depression. Facebook now encourages people to report such downward mood spirals among friends, so they can have a confidential chat with an online counsellor.
“Staying connected is not enough; you have to be emotionally connected. The most worrying finding was that only one in three surveyed had sought help,” says Parikh. Among those who had, 55% sought help from friends, and 29% from family, which shows that ‘friends’ – online or offline – can help, provided they stay alert to early signs of despair.