Written by Prashanth Brahmandam, Nicole Gonzales
As several U.S. states have recently initiated litigation against a major social media company, there’s no better time to talk about the way digital platforms can influence youth mental health.
These lawsuits allege that certain social media products are designed with addictive qualities that could potentially exacerbate the youth mental health crisis.
While these serious allegations unfold in the public domain, at Backpack Healthcare, we’re channeling our focus on how technology, if designed thoughtfully, can actually foster positive habits and aid in the mental wellness of children and adolescents.
Our mission is to reframe the narrative: to use the very principles that make apps engaging in a way that benefits, rather than harms, the mental health of our younger generations.
The Social Media Paradox: Connectivity and Isolation
There’s no denying that social media plays a critical role in shaping the adolescent experience.
Studies, including those cited by authorities in recent legal actions, highlight an undeniable link between excessive social media use and mental health issues.
This is compounded by the developmental phase of teenagers, who, propelled by neurological changes, are naturally drawn to external stimuli, only to find a deluge of anxiety-inducing content.
The American Psychological Association (APA) has found that a staggering number of teens reported stress from exposure to negative news topics, which are amplified through digital platforms.
Dopamine and Addiction: The Fine Line
Social media apps engage with the parts of our brain that impact addiction by releasing dopamine.
Dopamine, the so-called “feel-good” neurotransmitter, underpins many activities that bring joy and satisfaction — such as exercise, a delicious meal, shopping, and winning.
However, when these natural processes are commandeered to perpetuate a cycle of dependency for profit, the line between engagement and addiction blurs. Social media apps like Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, through features like points, badges, and streaks, hooks users into an endless loop of interaction.
During adolescent development, brain regions associated with the desire for attention, feedback, and reinforcement from peers become more sensitive. Meanwhile, the brain regions involved in self-control have not fully matured. This combined with social media’s “dopamine manipulation” can be a recipe for disaster – a modern day rendition of Pavlov’s experiment.
Backpack’s Mission: Redefining Engagement
At Backpack Healthcare, our aim is to flip the script with a new mental healthcare app launching soon. By harnessing AI and gamification — the very tools implicated in fostering dependence — we strive to guide children and teens towards activities that fortify their mental health.
Instead of “likes” and “streaks” that bind them to a screen, we will encourage milestones that celebrate personal growth, like maintaining a journaling streak or completing mental health exercises.
By redirecting the dopamine-driven reward system towards constructive behaviors like self-reflection and persistence towards a goal, we will promote resilience and emotional well-being.
Positive Reinforcement: Gaming for Good
Our platform will incorporate popular gaming elements, not for addiction but for enrichment, offering a positive feedback loop for engaging in therapeutic activities.
Imagine a world where the time spent on a smartphone is not for endless scrolling but for setting and achieving personal mental health goals.
Through technology, we facilitate a therapeutic journey that’s engaging and transformative.
Vigilance and Action: Recognizing the Signs
As a society, we must remain vigilant, particularly with the youth, for signs of mental distress.
It’s crucial for parents and guardians to be aware of the indicators of depression and anxiety.
Recognizing these symptoms is the first step toward healing.
At Backpack Healthcare, we’re not just leveraging technology; we’re redefining its application. Our virtual therapy allows kids, teens, and young adults to connect with therapists and psychiatrists digitally, making it easier than ever for them to get the care they need, when they need it.
If you’re interested in learning more about the services we offer, please visit our website. And if you’d like to partner with Backpack Healthcare to make mental healthcare more accessible and inclusive in your community, please reach out via this page.