When Selena Gomez recently revealed that she hadn’t used the internet in over four years, I think it’s safe to assume that her revelation surprised most people. No internet for four years?? In today’s digitally dominant world, most people probably couldn’t go four hours without the Internet, let alone four years…myself included. As someone with two laptops, two phones, and an iPad, I definitely place myself in the device dependent category.
Among the major social media platforms (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and TikTok), Ms. Gomez has approximately 500 million followers (probably overlapping, not unique followers), making the global superstar one of the most popular celebrities. followed in the world. Although she helps her team curate their content, she doesn’t post herself.
As a physician who cares for patients’ brain health by treating addiction and mental illness, I can understand the former Disney star’s motivation: improving mental health. In an interview with hello america, the entrepreneur revealed, “I haven’t been on the internet in four and a half years…and it’s completely changed my life: I’m happier, I’m more present, I connect more with people. It makes me feel normal. Mental wellness for all is a labor of love for Gomez who teamed up with her mother, Mandy Teefey, and Newsletter founder, Daniella Pierson, to launch Wonderminda new mental health platform.
The harms of social networks
the rare beauty the founder’s experience is backed by science. According to Harvard McLean Hospital, social media stimulates the brain’s reward pathway by releasing the “pleasure” neurotransmitter, dopamine, which is associated with feel-good activities like eating, drinking alcohol, and sex. Social media is inherently empowering: Because it’s designed to be addictive, these platforms are linked to depression, anxiety, and physical symptoms.
“We are hardwired for attachment and connection,” says Steven Delisi, MD, medical director of Enterprise Solutions and assistant professor, HBF Graduate School of Addiction Studies at Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. Dr Delisi added: “Social media platforms target brain regions responsible for human attachment, and we need to understand how ‘tech attachment’ differs or is similar to in-person attachment.”
The destructive impact of social media on girls is particularly alarming. And this is not a new phenomenon.
“Aggression against girls and their body images is part of all media, long before social media,” describes Candida Fink, MD, a child and teen psychiatrist in Westchester, New York. “In my generation, we stuffed ourselves with magazines with photos of inaccessible bodies – and we constantly felt inferior.”
People with underlying mental disorders should be extra careful. “For Selena Gomez and many others, there may well be good reasons to stay away from digital platforms,” says Dr. Fink. “For a girl living with bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, or eating disorders have specific risk factors for feeling much worse or having worse symptoms with greater exposure to social media , especially to image-based platforms like Instagram.”
Harassment on the internet
According to Lancet Child and adolescent healthcyberbullying appears to be the most damaging for girls, followed by lack of sleep and lack of exercise.
Dr. Delisi agrees: “Cyberbullying is a very real risk, and the higher the ‘dose’ of social media young people are exposed to, the greater the risk of cyberbullying or exposure to predatory influences.
internet vs social media
While Gomez’s public disclosure indicated avoidance of “the internet,” most of us associated it with social media. I think it is important to distinguish the two entities. Many of us rely on online tools for work and school, from academic research to a simple Google search. Using web browsers for business, educational, or recreational purposes is not inherently harmful. At least not in the way that social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok are designed to be addictive. Of course, as with all things in life, excessive internet use can also be harmful to health.
Why young people are at risk
The difference between youth and adult mental health comes down to brain development. According to Dr. Delisi, adolescence is a HUGE period of development and growth of crucial neural networks that fundamentally affect the trajectory of brain function into adulthood. The prefrontal cortex, responsible for executive decision-making, is of utmost importance, but it is not fully developed until the mid-20s. In other words, the rational part of the brain of a young n is not fully developed. Teenagers process information with the amygdala, the emotional part of the brain.
Social media isn’t all bad
Despite all its flaws, social media has many advantages. Digital platforms have allowed people from all walks of life to “come together”. They have also propelled various social justice movements such as #MeToo, #EndFGM and #ThisIsOurLane. Fundraising efforts like #StandUpForUkraine and #JustGiving have galvanized virtual communities that otherwise would never have known each other.
Dr. Fink supports this premise: “We now have so many online communities that connect people and reject the lies and bigotry found in much of the media, such as body acceptance and disabilities, and racial stories and that push back against racism and misogyny. This is all happening because of social media, and it’s quite powerful. The psychiatrist and author believes Lizzo’s show, Watch out for the big Grrrls, would not exist without social networks: “It is so satisfying to see these young women celebrated, supported while being held to very rigorous standards for their profession.”
How YOU can log in by logging out
Unlike Gomez, you do NOT need an entire social media and PR team to manage your computer time to improve your mental and physical health. We can all take small, effective steps to feel connected in a healthier way. If you’re a parent, monitor and limit screen time for young children and teens whose developing brains are susceptible to environmental damage. Key messages for young people: get enough sleep; maintain ties with your friends in real life; and physical activity benefits mental AND physical well-being.
Selena Gomez’s voice matters: my perspective as a doctor
Ms. Gomez, quite simply, is a global sensation; a multiple “threat”: singer, actor, producer, businesswoman. She is very influential, especially with young people. When she speaks, people listen. When celebrities like Selena openly share their struggles and triumphs with addiction and mental illness, it has a HUGE impact on destigmatizing both conditions. Last week, a patient confessed in tears: “I started using heroin again, doc. I’m too ashamed to tell my family. I can not stop. They won’t understand. People like Selena understand, or at least sympathize. By sharing her story and creating free and accessible mental health tools like Wondermind, Gomez is making a difference. “If I’m known for something, I hope it’s just how I care about people.” Let’s take care of ourselves and those around us.