Being constantly connected to each other and to the plethora of information on the web has a serious impact on college students’ mental health, a new study reports. While social networks and Google searches may be a lifeline to the world for many students, they can also cause feelings of isolation and depression, and they have changed the nature of many social interactions.
The study is from mtvU, the Associated Press and the Jed Foundation, and is part of the Half of Us campaign targeting college students’ technology use and mental health. The organizations surveyed 2,207 undergrads at 40 randomly selected colleges across the US.
Online Communications: Increasing Isolation and Confusion
Unsurprisingly, college students are heavy users of social networks according to this study. 90% of respondents said they used a social network at least once in the past week, and four in ten have over 500 friends on a variety of networks. However, this use isn’t necessarily beneficial for the students’ mental health: one in seven respondents said that using online social networks increased their feelings of isolation.
The information that is exchanged on these social networks impacts students’ mental health as well. Just under 70% of the college students polled said they read a status update or message from a friend that seemed like a cry for emotional help – but less than half of these students said they would make a personal visit to that friend to try to help.
The nature of communication is changing because of digital communications, and many college students are confused by the increasingly text-based conversations they’re having. At least half the time students read emails, texts, or social network posts, 48% report feeling unsure of whether or not the text was meant as a joke. And nearly six in ten college students say they spend some time analyzing delayed or non-responses if someone doesn’t answer their text immediately.
Other issues can crop up around social network and text-based communications too. 70% of the respondents reported having an argument purely via text message – no in-person, face-to-face communications involved at all. And nearly half of the respondents say they’ve used text messages to purposely avoid a face-to-face confrontation.
The Paradox of Constant Communication
So what do these figures really mean?
It looks like students are having some difficulty adjusting to a more computer- and smartphone-mediated life. While they are active and avid users of social networks, they aren’t always participating online to their benefit. There are times when text messages and status updates cause confusion, conflict and stress for students.
It’s a paradox that students today are both more connected than ever but feeling isolated because of it. 14% of the students polled say they feel isolated because of their online communications – and isolation can lead to stress and depression. As most things in life, social network use should be balanced by in-person communication and physical meetings in order for students to really feel connected to each other and to their world.