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October is designated as Mental Health Awareness Month. Despite progress in reducing the stigma surrounding mental illnesses in recent years, it remains a topic that many find uncomfortable to discuss, often feeling ashamed or embarrassed about their struggles. It’s important to recognize that you are not alone, and there’s a high likelihood that someone you know well is experiencing similar challenges.

In this blog post, we will delve deeper into why the mental health epidemic has been on the rise among college-aged students and young adults in general. Specifically, we will explore how changes in our social interactions over the years have impacted our mental well-being and overall happiness.

Cultural Shift – Growing Isolation in TV Shows

An article recently featured in Business Insider draws attention to the concept of “third spaces.” These are locations where individuals meet outside of their home and workplaces. Examples of third spaces encompass settings such as bars, parks, coffee shops, libraries, and community centers.

The article underscores the cultural shift depicting the diminishing significance of third spaces, drawing parallels to this trend in television shows. This shift is exemplified through a comparison between two renowned series: “Friends” from the 1990s and “Succession,” which premiered its first episode in 2018.

In Friends, characters spent most of their time bonding in third spaces like cafes, diners, and bars, with no distraction from social media since it didn’t exist. They were genuinely engaged in face-to-face conversations, work was not a dominant factor, and everyone paid attention to one another.

In contrast, Succession capitalizes on hustle culture and the influence of social media. Characters in this show are generally discontented, disconnected from each other, and heavily focused on their careers. Most of the time, the characters are shown at work or at a work related function. Rarely do they hang out without discussing work-related matters or checking social media, especially Twitter, for the latest news and drama.

While these two shows have vastly different themes – “Friends” emphasizing friendship and togetherness, and “Succession” highlighting isolation and ruthless corporate ambition – they reflect the societal changes over the years. Our society has become more divided on various issues, and one noticeable shift is our increased time spent online, replacing the need for physical gatherings in “third-spaces.”

In “Friends,” when the cast hangs out, no one is glued to their social media feeds, promoting the value of being present and embracing slow living. Conversely, “Succession” portrays characters multitasking on their devices, promoting a fast-paced lifestyle where the present moment is often overlooked.

Social Media: The Good & Bad

Social media has reduced the need for physical meet-ups in traditional hangout spots, as we can now easily keep up with our friends through platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter. This has led to a decline in nurturing relationships in person. The impact of social media can be positive or negative, depending on how we use it and our goals when using these apps—whether it’s for entertainment, staying connected with friends, or gaining knowledge.

Social media can be a source of value and positivity when we follow accounts that inspire, educate, and encourage.

However, some people use social media to flaunt their successes and make others envious, which can be harmful, especially to those already facing challenges. For instance, seeing a perfect model’s photo on Instagram when you’re feeling insecure about your appearance can trigger negative emotions.

It’s crucial to remember that social media shows a curated “highlight reel” of people’s lives. They often share only their accomplishments and rarely display their less proud moments. Therefore, it’s important to approach social media content with skepticism. What you see isn’t always the whole story, and keeping this in mind is essential while using social media.

Difficulties transitioning to college 

The transition to college can be a daunting and challenging experience, particularly if you’re entering without knowing anyone. Many students find it difficult to step out of their comfort zones, which can lead to feelings of isolation. For individuals who aren’t naturally outgoing, the idea of making new friends can be intimidating.

Furthermore, research has indicated that mental health issues often surface during college years. Sarah K. Lipson, the principal investigator of The Healthy Mind Network, an organization dedicated to adolescent and young adult mental health, points out that “About 75% of lifetime mental health problems emerge by the mid-20s, making the college years an epidemiologically vulnerable period.”

It’s worth noting that approximately 1 in 5 adults in the United States grapple with mental health challenges, and young adults aged 18 to 25 are disproportionately affected. The prevalence of college students reporting anxiety and depression has been on the rise for some time, and the situation has only exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Where to seek Help

In the current climate, it’s of utmost importance to maintain and enhance awareness of mental health issues. Students should be empowered and assured that there are resources available to assist them. To explore the range of mental health services offered at SUNY Fredonia, please refer to the following link: SUNY Fredonia’s mental health services.