Some Social Media Platforms Can Really Help Your Teen’s Mental Health

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We know that therapy works very well in many situations. We also know that adolescents have a amazing nine hours a day on the screens. Can we bring together best practices from mental health and online social interactions to create new ways to support teens?

We are seeing the worst decline in mental health in history when it comes to how many people are suffering, and platforms like Instagram and TikTok only make it worse.

The provision of mental health services, especially for adolescents, will never be able to meet this pandemic demand unless we create new forms of support systems designed to evolve. Traditional mental health treatment involves one-on-one online or in-person consultation with a mental health professional, which makes it inherently limited in its ability to evolve.

There is a estimated at 10,000 mental health apps available in the market today. Some of these applications are technology-only solutions that provide self-guided content. However, these applications barely catch the attention of their users after just 30 days of downloading, while apps like Instagram continue to enjoy very high engagement.

Other innovations that rely on the use of robots or unlicensed therapists, also called “coaches” for treatment, are viewed with skepticism by many renowned psychologists.

As we develop ways to support adolescent mental health, we should go back to what we already know works very well.

We know that the quality of the relationship between a patient and a therapist is the best predictor of a positive outcome of therapy. This alliance should not be limited to this relationship. How can we use this alliance to make mental health work a safe social experience? Is it possible to use this alliance to democratize mental health?

Think about the difference between fun group learning activities and learning from a tutor. What we have today in mental health is more of the tutor model. For the most part, this is overkill. We need to create social media-like support for mental health where teens can easily learn from each other as well as guardians who are mental health professionals.

Recent studies have shown that it is possible and startups like Wisdom, Rhythm groups, and my company, ConsciousHealth, build mental health support that uses the community as a foundation. Such programs focus on democratizing mental health support while maintaining authenticity of care and are therefore much more cost effective compared to therapy. These platforms are designed to bring together the best of both worlds: social media and mental health.

It’s hard to imagine a future without social media. We know that somehow kids are going to find ways to use these platforms and as adults they will have to face the native world of social media. To support adolescent mental health, it makes sense to reach them where they are and involve them in a way they are used to.

While Facebook and others have repeatedly failed to adapt their technology to protect mental health, these new generations of social platforms offer immense hope for the future.

Param Kulkarni is the founder of AwareHealth, a startup supported by Cornell Tech. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.

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