• Counselors are seeing a rise in young people seeking counseling for depression.
  • One reason so many young people are dealing with depression is because they’re socially isolated thanks to increasing social media use.
  • The good news is that while this problem is concerning, it can be corrected: we can take the necessary steps to improve our social skills and engage in real human interaction.
  • You should follow a few rules of thumb: first, put your phone aside when engaging in face-to-face interactions and make an effort to call your loved ones instead of texting.
  • Additionally, attend social events regularly; find a fun activity to enjoy with your friends and family and stick to it.

Depression is a foreign concept to my dad and older siblings. Anytime it comes up in the news or I mention a friend’s run-in with the illness, they have a hard time relating. They sympathize, but they can’t empathize because they’ve never experienced anything close to the feelings that accompany depression. They rely on me to explain the ins and outs of the condition, from these feelings to additional symptoms, prevalence, and treatment. And I do my best, but it leaves me frazzled, begging two important questions: Why is it so hard for them to grasp the idea of depression? And why is it so easy for me?

This is a testament to the notion that young people might be a little more familiar with depression than their older counterparts. We (I’m a young 20-something) know everything there is to know about the illness. And not only can we sympathize with those who are depressed, but we can empathize—because a lot of us have been there or are currently there. We’ve experienced a depressive episode ourselves, or we’re dealing with a full-blown depressive disorder. The next question is why do so many young people have a run-in with depression? Causes can vary, but a common denominator is social isolation.

Social Media, Isolation, and Depression

Dr. Gary Brown, a relationship therapist, says that he and his colleagues are seeing an increase in depression among 20-somethings seeking counseling. And it is likely due in part to an increased sense of isolation. “This is a leading factor in depression for 20-somethings. I attribute much of this to their growing inability—through no fault of their own—to know about and use basic social skills,” he explains. “This stems from either the lack of social skills being taught and/or they were taught but the use of electronic devices has figuratively short-circuited their ability to read body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. As a result, they don’t know how to really emotionally connect with others unless it involves keystrokes.”

He continues: “They can’t maintain eye contact. They don’t know what the rules are outside of the digital world. These factors are contributing to the isolation due to lack of IRL (in real life) emotional connection. That contributes to depression. And that is a frequent theme I am seeing in my younger clients who seek counseling. It’s not the only theme, but it is a constant theme when they begin to explore this phenomenon.”

Correcting The Problem: 3 Tips

There is cause for concern, as “technology is advancing much more rapidly than our ability to adapt to it in healthy ways.” And younger people in particular are at risk of suffering as a result of this technological advancement. That said, there is also reason to be hopeful; there are ways to correct depressive thoughts or feelings when they’re rooted in social isolation. “Once they realize what the root problem is—assuming their depression or fear of depression is not genetically-based due to a family history of depression—it is easier to learn how to find healthier coping mechanisms,” Brown explains. Here are his tips:

1) Put your phone aside. First, don’t spend all of your time on your phone when you’re in the company of friends or family. A general rule of thumb should be to “ditch electronic devices when engaging in face to face conversations,” says Brown. So, keep your phone in your purse or your pocket. And challenge your friends to do the same.

2) Make a few phone calls a week. Also, instead of communicating via text all day, every day, give your loved ones a call. This might still technically be a digital interaction, but it is much more personal than a text message. Brown says you should “make it a point to call at least three people a week—if not more.”

3) Plan and attend social events. Finally, make it a point to attend social events on the regular. “Put an emphasis on direct IRL human contact. No amount of texting, Instagram, or Snapchat can replace direct contact,” Brown explains. Grab some friends and go check out the local wineries; make dinner together; start a workout group or book club. Find what you enjoy and do it with people!

“Once they become emotionally engaged with others, they will feel less depressed, more inspired, and more fulfilled,” Brown concludes. “I see this beautiful transformation take place all the time!”