In an age when it is easier to connect than ever before, it’s hard to imagine that people are lonely. Unfortunately, experts and statisticians are beginning to agree: Many of us are lonelier than ever before.
The vast majority of people actively using social media and taking the most advantage of digital connections today are under the age of 35. The annual Stress Report from the American Psychological Association (APA) found that millennials (age 18-35) were the most stressed of any generation in America. The survey averaged the millennial stress rate at 5.5 out of 6.
The report also found that millennials lead the country in feeling lonely and isolated (34 percent). This is despite being a generation with social media and instant connection in the palm of their hands at all times. While mental health statistics can often be hard to fully rely on or to compare with less common data from the past, it’s still hard to ignore a phenomenon many large publications and mental health professionals have taken an interest in.
A report from Bensinger, DuPont & Associates (BDA), an employee assistance company, recently found that 1 in 5 millennials used their service to admit they felt depression and difficulty in the workplace. That number is also higher than for other generations in the workplace.
It’s easy to understand a world in which millennials are the most stressed and lonely generation yet. The economy seems to never be on solid ground, times are uncertain, the country is polarized, the cost of college is rising and companies are transitioning in new and scary ways. As Bob Dylan once mused, “The times they are a changin’.”
While the source of depression for an entire generation is easy to see for anyone who keeps up with the news or stares down the barrel of the same uncertain future as millennials trying to make their mark, it’s important to note the role technology and social media can play in it all.
We are now a world living a double life. Most of us have our physical selves and the digital versions of ourselves. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media platforms are larger and more bloated than ever. These social media platforms are now used to chronicle nearly every movement of people’s lives. There is a constant pressure to present a happy, functioning self to the world.
This over-importance given to the digital world and the fact that its presence is constantly inescapable is impossible to avoid in the conversation of whether or not we are more lonely as people.
A Youtube video entitled “I Forgot My Phone,” which sports nearly 50 million views today, tried to encapsulate the phenomenon in just over two minutes. The video, written by and starring Charlene deGuzman, shows a woman going through the motions of her day without her phone. She watches and feels isolated as she sees people glued to their screens in every aspect of their lives, even her boyfriend. People in the video miss nearly every moment occurring in front of them as they are stuck in the glare of their digital screens.
It’s a powerful video, capturing the absolute isolation and loneliness people can feel take control when they look up from their phones in order to make a real connection with somebody, anybody.
“I came up with the idea for the video when I started to realize how ridiculous we are all being, myself included, when I was at a concert and people around me were recording the show with their phones, not actually watching the concert,” Ms. deGuzman said in an interview about the inspiration for the viral video.
It’s hard not to see the connection between a growing loneliness and depression in younger Americans in the face of a digital world that many times seems to leave us cold and farther apart. While there are benefits to the digital connections of today-easier to talk to strangers, distant friends and relatives, easier to find groups of like-minded people — it’s also easy to see the imbalance in the digital and real worlds that may be leading to a very real sense of isolation for many millennials.
“It makes me sad that there are moments in our lives where we’re not present because we’re looking at a phone,” deGuzman says. Despite evidence pointing towards more distant and isolated youths, social media and technology is not solidly accepted as the core reason for growing stress, depression, etc.
“There are indicators that depression and loneliness are increasing. Some studies also show that people have fewer strong social network ties (close friends with whom they can share and discuss important matters). But, is this due to the technology? It is ingrained in our culture now, so it is difficult to isolate its effect,” Professor Ed Collom, professor of Sociology at the University of Southern Maine, told Lifezette.
It’s a difficult digital and physical landscape millennials and other Americans are facing, and many of them may be running to social media and technology in the hopes of a better world or better connections, only to be later disappointed by bitter results.
“I think the scholarship in these areas will continue to grow and we will continue to learn about the consequences of our connections,” Collom says.