Society has sewn social media, celebrity culture and materialism into the fabric of modern life. A culture of imitating celebrities and swiping through illusory perfect lives is now drowning the youth into deep waters of depression and anxiety.
Recently, the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health published an illuminating study which reveals that body dissatisfaction affects 61% of teens worldwide, leading to heightened risk of depression in adulthood.
The researchers based their study on 4,000 participants in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC).
At the age of 14, “both the boys (1,675) and the girls (2,078) were mildly satisfied with their body, overall. But girls were more dissatisfied than boys.” At the age of 18, the same pool of boys and girls were assessed for depressive symptoms, revealing that “girls were more likely to experience episodes of depression than boys … One in 10 (10%) of the girls reported at least one depressive episode compared with 1 in 20 (5%) of the boys.”
This showed that body dissatisfaction at a young age reflected heightened risk of depression when older. The study noted that boys had more intense episodes of depression compared to girls. Regarding this, researchers suggested that “it is possible that in the era of social media and increasing pressures on body ideals, male adolescents have also become sensitive to [idealised body image] pressures, which may translate into later depressive episodes”.
The study goes into further detail and can be accessed online at: www.bmj.com/company/newsroom/teen-dislike-of-physical-appearance-strong-predictor-of-depression-in-early-adulthood/
In recent years, a plethora of studies have proven that modern society has caused a surge in mental health issues across a spectrum of demographics, especially amongst teenagers. Concerns about the need for social media regulation are echoed worldwide, but practically, little is done.
Children and adolescents are constantly trapped in illusionary worlds and face depression, anxiety and sadness as a result. The children’s charity, YMCA, spoke to 1,000 young people aged 11 to 16 years old about body image expectations; 58% of the children blamed celebrities, while 52% of them blamed social media for body image expectations. (www.ymca.org.uk/latest-news/young-people-face-great-expectations-to-look-perfect)
The Journal of Adolescence in 2016 published a study which showed that adolescents who used social media more and those who were more emotionally invested in social media “experienced poorer sleep quality, lower self-esteem and higher level of anxiety and depression.”
This has added to the evidence that “social media use is related to various aspects of wellbeing in adolescents.” (Journal of Adolescence, Vol. 51, August 2016, pp. 41-49)
It is not just social media that has caused depression and anxiety; rather, the culture our modern world has created – through technology – is a hollow, pretentious society that perpetuates materialism. The pressure to obtain the latest gadget, car or possession are never-ending; acquiring the “dunya” (world), as the Quran puts it, is now the primary objective of life. Studies on the causes for depressions and anxiety (of which there are many) are deeply alarming; they expose the detrimental culture materialism brews, especially for our youth.
Society, especially in the West, boasts slogans of “freedom” and “liberty”. While basic human rights are much better in the West, shackling social pressures continue to imprison the youth, leading to unprecedented levels of anxiety, depression and inferiority complexes. Youngsters shouldn’t have to feel pressured into how their bodies look or compare their lives to others, but sadly, social pressures to conform with social “norms” and look and act a certain way plague their lives.
This expectation then expands to publicise oneself, which leads to a trap of comparisons, wants and complexes. Prior to the age of Facebook and Instagram, cherishing personal pictures and memories stayed within families and friends – they weren’t for all to view, nor was there social pressure to disclose them as they were tucked safely away in photo albums stored in bookshelves and cabinets.
However, in an almost numb manner, people continue to expose their lives to the world and an online echo-chamber has been created where those aspects of our lives that used to be private and personal are publicised for all to see. Of course, this public exhibition has also lead to a mirage in which people show their lives to be “perfect”, when in reality, they are far from it.
Whether one is mindful or not, this culture affects people, especially youngsters, in detrimental ways, as studies continuously point out. Valid arguments are made that the youth need to be made aware of the dangers circling them and that social media comes with responsibility, but this is easier said than done.
Big tech companies painstakingly ensure that social media remains addictive and fund studies to dig out more ways to hijack our dopamine systems. Of course, modern society has its benefits, as does social media. But we must stop and ask ourselves if our current system is healthy, progressive and wholesome for the future of our children.
Do we want this façade of materialism to continue, or should our moral compass and ideals change?