Social media like ‘heroin injection’ for disconnected teens
THE growing disconnect between teenagers and the real world is exacerbating mental health issues and a contributing factor in the spike in youth crime, a prominent Gold Coast general practitioner says.
Dr Sonu Haikerwal, former president of the Gold Coast Medical Association and co-owner of Haan Health, said the quick-fix mentality that came with unfettered access to the internet and social media was damaging young people.
"Whatever they have they can always find someone who has something better, so there's a lack of contentment, there's a need to always do more and have more," she said.
"It's leading to behaviours where young people are looking for ways to be relevant, to find purpose and get attention and often this can be seen in anti-social or risky behaviours."
While acknowledging mental health was a serious and growing issue for teenagers, Dr Haikerwal said in some instances the reason children were diagnosed with anxiety and depression was because they were isolated and disconnected from the community.
"They are not playing with babies or talking to older people, young people are not singing and dancing, they are drugging themselves with alcohol and drugs.
"I think we need to bring back the normality to our community and encourage face-to-face connections.
"I'm constantly picking up the pieces and see parents of teenagers who are so distraught about their kids' health because they are living their lives online, at 15 and 16 years of age."
Dr Haikerwal said young people's attention spans were becoming much more short-lived and they craved the hit they got from a like or comment on social media sites. "But 10 minutes later they feel alone again," she said.
"We all have little dopamine stimulators and social media taps into this. It's like a tiny bit of a heroin injection that kids crave."
Dr Haikerwal said she recently treated a 15-year-old who was saying all the right things about her mood, in a bid to get depression medication to improve her mental health.
"She knew all the lingo, and I said to her that if I diagnosed her going by the symptoms she described I'd diagnose her psychosis and would have to put her on serious medication that would make her put on 30kg and drastically affects her personality," she said.
"I feel there's very little honest talking happening and it's contributing to a disconnect."
Crucially, Dr Haikerwal discouraged the use of telehealth consultations, particularly for teenagers, unless it was for "stable run-of-the-mill" medicine such as a request for a pathology form for a blood test.
"Our young people need actual back-to-basics attention, they don't need Xanax. They need more empathy, more connection and more care.
"Young people need to be present out in the community and society. This will, in part, help to improve their mental health and potentially reduce anti-social behaviour."
Originally published as Social media like 'heroin injection' for disconnected teens