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Mental health impact of United Nations International Day of Friendship

Published: Jul. 30, 2021 at 6:48 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Today, July 30, is the United Nations sanctioned International Day of Friendship, now marking its tenth anniversary. Yet, what can happen on social media when posts about friendship actually make people feel alone? We spoke with doctors about the psychological effects of the celebration.

Visiting the Greater Green Bay Downtown YWCA during one of their summer camp session boasted a friend group with ages ranging from incoming middle schoolers to kindergarteners. Their demographic diversity makes for an interesting play time.

“Usually we have to play like house or moms and dads and stuff which makes the younger kids happy or they like to sit down and sit on people’s laps and have us read books to them,” Kaylee Lewis, an incoming sixth grader and camper at Green Bay’s YWCA, said.

That might seem very grown up but most of these children at the YWCA’s summer camp in downtown Green Bay aren’t even on social media yet. Which doctors say can potentially change what young people value in their friendships. Especially during celebrations like International Day of Friendship which can put friend group posts at the top of social media users’ feeds. Experts say not being included in those pictures can absolutely take a toll on someone’s mental health.

“There is no evidence that people with anxiety and depression are more likely to have challenges, but maybe it is the same kind of temperament or the same kind of nature and nurture that effects both kind of reactions,” a child psychiatrist at the Medical College of Wisconsin, Dr. Himanshu Agrawal, said. “They might feel disenfranchised. They might feel anxious. They might feel abandoned. They might feel lonely and just no one likes to be left out of the party.”

What advice do social media researchers have for parents hoping to help their children?

“One of the best strategies that we’ve found for parents is to be really curious and be the person who is asking a lot of questions,” Dr. Megan Moreno, the principal investigator at the University of Wisconsin’s Social Media and Adolescent Health Research Team, said. “Not making assumptions that all use is bad. We know that for many teens they describe social media as a lifeline for themselves in the past year with the pandemic as a way to stay in contact with people.”

Social media influencers make their careers by being able to connect with people online - like Kennedy Cymone. Cymone made her Instagram when she was about 14 or 15. She has 1.9 million subscribers on her YouTube channel. Plus, 1.7 million followers on Instagram. That’s about the same number of people living in Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Boston combined.

When Cymone made her channels she explained that it was just something fun to do as a hobby. “I started to realize there are people around the world that love to do the same thing,” Cymone remembered. “Being so young I didn’t really feel like there was a place for me to fit in. People didn’t really understand the whole social media thing. So, being online and seeing that other people could relate to me, it made me feel like alright I have a home somewhere with people. I can create friends and friendships that way.”

Whether you or your child use social media today, Dr. Agrawal says, is a personal choice.

“If you do decide to open it keep some things in mind: prepare for the worst, hope for the best,” Agrawal highlighted. “If for some reason you’re disappointed by the results, that’s okay. Allow that disappointment to come to you. Accept it. Don’t be in denial.”

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