Youth between 16 to 24 years of age often feel lonely, is social media to blame?

Blaming social media for loneliness is almost the same as accusing a gun-maker of shooting people.

Have you ever felt that there's some part of you that makes you feel that you're all alone even though you're surrounded by a group of friends or family? If you feel this then you definitely aren't the only one.

As per the recent findings from the BBC Loneliness Experiment, about 40 percent of the people from the 16-24 year age group experienced loneliness more often and more intensely than any other age group included in the survey.

Over 55,000 people aged 16 years and above took part in the survey. The survey explored attitudes and personal experiences of loneliness and is one of the biggest surveys of its kind.

Of the findings, Claudia Hammond, presenter of Radio 4’s All in the Mind says, "We were staggered by the huge numbers of people taking part in our survey. This research shows we need to take loneliness seriously in all age groups."

Even though the emotion of loneliness is associated with the elder generation, the research shows how younger people with 40 percent felt lonely, in comparison to only 27 percent felt lonely over 75 years of age.

Representational image. Tech2.

Representational image. Tech2.

The concept of loneliness can be seen to be subjective as well so it needs to be described and laid down. “Loneliness, psychologically, is when an individual feels the loss of support, withdrawn from interrelationships and cut off. It is coupled with feelings of low mood, disinterestedness, sometimes fatigue and lack of willingness to socially engage,” says Pragya Lodha an independent practising Clinical Psychologist.

A similar trend of finding a high level of loneliness was also recorded by other national surveys by the Office for National Statistics in 2017 and Eden Project in 2015.

In 2016, the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in partnership with Konrad Adenauer Stiftung had conducted a survey to understand the attitudes, anxieties and aspirations of India’s youth (aged 15-34 years).

The findings, released in April 2017, revealed that 12 percent of the youth reported feeling depressed often, and 8 percent said they felt lonely quite frequently.

“It is the innate characteristic of a person to be lonely. It may also be the difficulty that the person may be experiencing in adapting to the situation because of which he or she might be feeling that he/she doesn't belong to their environment,” says Juhi Kishor Saliya, a practising Clinical Psychologist and Asst. professor at Maniben Nanavati Women’s College, Mumbai.

But what can be the cause for the youth to feel lonely?

The most common trigger for loneliness is usually when there's no one to talk to or to connect with, but in this time and age where social media is booming, why is the level of youth feeling lonely on a rise even though there is an availability of various platforms through which people can connect?

The study showed that people who felt lonely had a larger number of 'online only' friends on social media platforms such as Facebook.

“Excessive social media usage does abstain one away from interacting face to face when the comfort and leisure of virtual communication becomes an option,” says Lodha.

There are a number of opportunities for the youth to connect through instant messaging, Skype, online gaming and create a whole new virtual world for themselves, research shows that excessive use of the internet can be linked to loneliness, social anxiety and depression.

Humans crave for attachment and for that the virtual connect might not be enough. As mentioned in the article Why Humans Need Connection "Humans are wired for connection – it's in our DNA, as strong a need as food, water and warmth."

In the book, Alone Together by MIT psychologist Sherry Turkle also states that people may have begun to enjoy communicating more through new technologies, but online communication lacks intimacy.

Think for yourself. Would you prefer yourself to have a long distance relationship with your loved ones and connect with them via platforms such as WhatsApp, Skype, FaceTime or would you prefer to have them close to you and not just send you emojis or virtual hugs? Some form of contact is better than no contact, but it's not a replacement for face-to-face interaction.

Social media is also a sort of escapism from reality. It gives you the opportunity to communicate and be friends with whoever you want to, but when this doesn't happen in real life, the gap might trigger the individual to fall into the hole of loneliness.

“An excess of use of social media has, time and again, through research and data analysis, shown that it's not healthy for anyone. The need of the hour is to get back the element of traditional meetings and face-to-face catching up,” says Lodha.

But is feeling lonely only a negative experience?

In the BBC Loneliness report, 41 percent of people think loneliness can sometimes be a positive experience. You get time for yourself. You can clear all the clutter in your head and do the things that you love. As Fergie says in her song Big Girls Don’t Cry, "I need to be with myself and centre. Clarity. Peace. Serenity."

But this action can also be seen as a voluntary withdrawal. Loneliness, on the other hand, is linked to poor mental and physical health, as mentioned by Livewire.

“There is a difference between withdrawal and loneliness. Loneliness is an extreme level of withdrawal where you do not have any interaction with anyone and do not allow people to be around you,” says Juhi Kishor Saliya.

Blaming social media for loneliness is almost the same as accusing a gun-maker of shooting people.

So the decision to monitor your social media indulgence is in your own hands depending on how engaging with social media affects you. Now there are ways through which you can track your social media indulgence, such as with Apple's new iOS 12 update, which helps you to examine your screen time. Google's Android 9.0 Pie also incorporates several mindfulness features.

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