Social Media Is Changing How College Students Deal With Mental Health, For Better Or Worse

When she began her freshman year in 2011, Sydney embarked on a tumultuous transformation. She had been accepted to her “reach school,” Duke University, where students seemed to strive for perfection both academically and socially.

The change came fast and without warning for Sydney, who asked to be referred to by her first name for this story to protect her privacy. In the classroom, she did not coast by as she had in high school. Her grades lagged, friendships both formed and faltered, and at times she lost confidence. Although many students find it difficult to adjust to college, Sydney carried the additional weight of an anxiety diagnosis. Change, she noted, can exacerbate the effects of a mental health disorder.

Sydney turned to her phone for an alternate reality. In the current college culture, Sydney explained, “the perfect girl on Instagram” looks like she’s having “so much fun,” has more followers than she is following, and collects “likes” in nanoseconds.

As she scanned the posts and profiles of her peers, Sydney struggled to distinguish between fact and fiction. She felt a disconnect from the image of perfection.

“I was glued to my phone freshman year. I couldn’t put it down,” recalled Sydney, who graduated from Duke this spring. “I was more critical of myself, of what I posted, of what I had up.”

College students today more detached from their peers than ever before. Research shows they’re less likely to have tangible relationships; enter college having spent less time socializing as teens; are more likely to be heavily medicated; and feel a greater pressure to be academically and socially successful than in the past.

Paired with the increasing dependence on social media, these factors leave students susceptible to mental health complications, some experts say. Meanwhile, the college community is using technology to —> Read More