The social media hamster wheel – the pressures and anxiety young people face daily

Hannah Morrish, Community Manager at The Student Room will be taking to the YMS stage talking about the challenges that young people face today. Here she shares the very real impact of constant digital scrutiny for 16-24s and being denied the luxury of a ‘false start’.

Society has become a tough place to live, particularly for young people - the much maligned ‘generation snowflake’ have roofs over their heads and food in their bellies, but the more pressures they face are very real.

Aspirations are high and young people are struggling to live up to largely unrealistic social, academic, professional and body image expectations. In a recent poll on The Student Room, 43% said passing exams stressed them out the most, and that’s before considering the other battles they face like achieving independence, knowing which career path to take, attaining the ‘perfect’ body and living up to the ever-increasing pressures of 24-hour social media. These issues are contributing to the increasing number of young people suffering with low self-esteem and mental health issues.

Mental health problems are more common than you might think. 1 in 4 of us will experience mental health problems at some point in our lives. A recent TSR poll highlighted that 69% of respondents had experienced a mental health issue or depression during their young lives.

As young people grow and develop they have to navigate the pressures of finding their feet in a society changing around them. As the rise in mental issues continues to rise so does the traffic to our mental health forums, making it one of the most popular forums on the site. Topics such as: ‘Depressed at college’, ‘Feel like isolating myself away from everyone’, ‘I feel so down and fed up with life right now’, ‘I can’t do this!’ are commonplace - spend just a couple of minutes on the site and you’ll see the wide range of issues that young people struggle with. TSR provides an important platform and safe space for young people to discuss and rationalise these issues, and give and receive advice on ways to cope.

The pressure of 24-hour social networking is having a material effect on young people’s wellbeing. Young people feel the need to make themselves constantly available on 24/7 social media sites and many feel the need to respond to texts or posts immediately. These pressures feed into anxiety that increasingly causes issues such as insomnia, anxiety, eating disorders and depression as they struggle to keep up to date with what is happening on Instagram, feeling the need to scroll through every unseen update on Facebook and keeping up to date with snapchat stories. Throughout our forums young people are acknowledging the negative effect that social media has on their daily lives with users exploring topics such as ‘What effect does social media have on our mental health’ and ‘How many hours a day do you spend staring at a screen?’ One visitor recently asked: ‘Why is depression so common now?’, to which another visitor’s response was simply: ‘Social media’.

Economic pressures and a fiercely competitive jobs market continues to pile pressure on young people denied the luxury of ‘false starts’ and time to ‘find their feet’. There is an expectation that young people should know exactly what their career goals are, and how to achieve them, to gain access to a ‘successful’ career with a high income. The implication being when they get there they will, ultimately, be happy. However, in practice expectations are ever-increasing and young people are continually comparing themselves with others. This means happiness is all-but impossible to achieve or fleeting – that even if they achieve their goals, they feel the pressure to achieve more; earn more, get on the property ladder, be slimmer, more popular, better travelled etc. etc.

It must feel like a hamster wheel, continually running to never arrive in a world where pressures grow and change at a rate no other generation has had to live with. One problem invites another, and the issues explored can all be linked to each other. The fact is life is hard for young people and it doesn’t look like it’s getting any easier. However, understanding these challenges helps us to equip young people with the support they need to make life that little bit easier. The Student Room provides a space where young people can provide support to their peers, gain authoritative advice from experts and explore issues that concern them.

The Student Room is a peer-to-peer forum and discussion site that 7,000,000+ young people visit monthly to discuss education, life around learning and pathways. Insight from these conversations informs the below.

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