The increase in isolation and lack of social feedback has increased a self-critical hyperawareness—meaning teens are very focused on their own feelings but are missing the important tools that allows some reality testing. This creates an environment where teens are too vulnerable to be negatively impacted by social media and the influence those platforms have. These dynamics directly feed into the depression and anxiety loop that we see in our clients.
Bigger picture, teens are just overloaded. Overloaded with information and access to things that our brains just aren’t built to compute and handle, like all the strains of the world. Teens are lacking a lot of resiliency at this point.
I worry about some of the mixed messages we are giving our youth because self-medicating is becoming a bit too normalized. Brains develop well into someone’s twenties. A brain wrestling with depression and anxiety is in many ways an overactive and overstressed brain; substance use only exacerbates symptoms. The struggle is for teens to have enough space and energy to learn and practice therapeutic skills instead of quickly turning to immediate relief and distraction.
We’ve also conducted research to better understand teen social media use. We learned a lot from this study. One thing that stood out to us is that teens know that using social media to cope with unpleasant feelings often only makes those feelings more intense. But, despite knowing this pattern, teens continue to engage in high levels of use anyways. This study really enforced in us that teen social media use can easily turn into a problem and that this is something we need to place more focus on.
I truly believe this is because they’re unaware of any other way to cope, so they cope the only way they know how, even though the coping mechanism is making the issue worse. If they had other ways, other tools and skills to do so though as mentioned above, then they wouldn’t have to resort to using social media as an addictive quick fix.
I’ve been encouraged to see that it is more and more common for people to talk about mental health and acknowledge that we are in a crisis. We’ve seen a huge spike in people using therapeutic terms and vernacular, which can create an environment where people are more comfortable talking about and listening to one another’s experiences with mental health.
Group therapy is so important and positively impactful in teen treatment. Teens need real- time feedback and support. Honest communication, opportunities to set boundaries, and chances for teens to ask for what they need is vital in treatment and key in addressing mental health struggles. What is great about a residential treatment setting is that we get to practice this all day, every day. And not enough can be said about the importance of family therapy, which we prioritize and see the biggest payoff.
If it’s not evident why I find articles such as this so poignant and relatable to my work, it’s because the connection between them may not be evident. Basically I don’t want to just use roleplaying games as a metaphor to help young adults understand vertical development better. I want to see if the elements of roleplaying games can be used as symbolic tools for their own vertical development which will aid in improving their mental health and sense of well-being in turn.
And I’m wondering if this is possible by using a group setting, similar to how roleplaying games like Dungeon & Dragons work, but instead of roleplaying a fictional fantasy setting, they are roleplaying the challenges and questions they are having in their own lives right now. So they would use the symbolic elements of roleplaying games (i.e. quests, dungeons, monsters, treasures, etc) as psychological tools (i.e. “monstrous” fears) to help them to objectively express their subjective feelings they’re having within a safe, peer-based environment.
Think of it kind of like Working Out Loud circles but with vertical development knowledge integrated into them as a foundational aspect, thus helping groups to find other people optimal for the level of consciousness that they are at and struggling with.
In a nutshell, this is what Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey represents at its core. Its main purpose isn’t to help us write fictional stories (although obviously it can be used this way). Its main purpose is to help us realize the psychological aspects of life by using mythological heroes, monsters, and treasures to symbolically do so, thus allowing us to change, grow, and evolve in the process which is what being a “hero” really means from Joseph Campbell’s perspective.