In the past 5 years, I’ve noticed a trend in my conversations with teens and amongst friends, family, and acquaintances. As I raise my children and they ask for more time on the tablet or request to send texts to family, I worry about the trend taking hold of my kids. The trend is feeling alone.
I attended a speaking event by researcher Dr. Niobe Way a few years ago and left with tears in my eyes. She described the transition of boys from connecting, emotion expressing, playful little beings to young men who have ‘buddies’ but no confidants; are comfortable showing anger or pride, but not fear or sadness. Our culture may have shifted the definition of ‘masculine’ to be one that encompasses independence at the cost of connection. An article I read recently described this shift. In it, the author describes higher rates of unemployment, divorce, suicide, and violence among adult males. The key points in the article lead me to consider the increased number of mass shootings in the US. Men have carried all these out. I cannot assume that loneliness, shifts in cultural norms, or changes in how emotions are expressed cause people to kill. I do not know the motivations of the murderers and in no way am I excusing the horrific atrocities they carried out; but I have to hope that we can prevent a massacre from happening again. While many factors need to be considered and intervened upon, changing how we treat each other is a step in tackling the loneliness and despair a person may feel if they are so desperate they want to kill.
Loneliness and social isolation are also becoming routine in my conversations with patients (regardless of gender). We are more “connected” than ever before; nearly every US household has access to the internet or owns a smartphone. Teens spend hours on social media and text hundreds of times per day with friends. Social media brings many benefits: access to online education, remaining in touch with friends and family who are not local, and allowing an outlet to express emotion in an anonymous way. Yet, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among teens (second to motor vehicles). Is there a correlation between depression and online use? Read full post »