Mental illness in its many forms affects millions of people of all ages worldwide. With the rise of online communications, sometimes the behaviors associated with depression and anxiety are more easily identified than they would be in person. Someone can post a Facebook status or share a photo that may allude to the inner struggles they are experiencing.
Children are no exception, as many access online message boards and use chatting apps to find like-minded communities throughout their teenage years.
Sometimes online activity can relay vital information about one’s mental health that could be used to help an individual seek treatment — or save their life. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, approximately 2.8 million children ages 12 to 17 suffered at least one major depressive episode in 2014. While there are physical symptoms of depression, such as increased fatigue and/or insomnia, it is important to monitor the digital aspects of a child’s activity to ensure they are of sound mind.
The statuses a child or teen posts are often more informative than one might assume. What a child is posting for the public to see can convey their mental state. If a child is being open online about feeling isolated, increasingly angry or anxious, this should be addressed immediately.
Shared photos that describe sadness, rage or even suicide and self-harm should not be ignored. Many would assume that posts about poor mental health are merely for attention, when in reality, they are a cry for help. It is always better to be safe than sorry in these situations, and not take any chances in regards to how a child may be feeling.
Visiting certain websites can also be a red flag. Message boards themed around depression and mental illness can be a solace for those suffering from these afflictions. However, it is important to make sure any children accessing these platforms are not being manipulated by predators, attacked by cyberbullies or using these discussions to explore (of even formulate plans for) self-harm and suicide.
Even the amount of time a child spends on social media or online can be an indicator of their mental health. Overuse of technology can be a way of distracting oneself from anxious and depressive thoughts. If a child is being overprotective of their cell phone, laptop or other devices, it may be time to see what they’ve been doing online.
It may be uncomfortable to monitor their Internet use, but in the end, safety is more important than privacy.