Engaging with the Internet in a healthy way


Junior Athena Butler-Christodoulou checks her phone before class. With the increase in the news that is accessible on phones and other technology, some people have become stressed about the impact that will have on them.

The speed of the Internet and the consequent rapid dissemination of the news means that people hear about global events, including violence and tragedy, quicker than in the past. While many students see the Internet and the speed with which news spreads as a good thing, others have concerns about its impact on their mental health. Some may find the constant accessibility and steady stream of information overwhelming, and others may feel emotionally involved in events that occur in the news. It is good to be an informed citizen, but it is also important to make sure that the Internet does not negatively affect mental health.

The overall link between the news and mental health is not particularly clear. It can be hard to collect data on a population level. At the moment, there is a limited amount of  timely data about the impact of news as a whole. However, some data exists as to how certain kinds of news can impact mental health.

“There are studies that show negative impacts of when there’s a celebrity suicide,” school psychologist Dr. James Siddall said. “We do know, for instance, that death rates rise over the next couple days at a population level, both from an increase in additional suicides as well as things that are a little bit more on the border. Car accidents go up and things like that, things that aren’t always classified as [suicide] but may be kind of related. So, there is a known link between some of those kinds of news stories and problematic mental health behavior in the general population.”

The rapid supply of news has changed the way people interact with global events. Social media, for example, means that individuals can take videos or photos of events as they happen. This means that more content is available, and it is becoming more common for people to see it unfiltered, like in amateur videos, than explained and broken down for them in articles. The immediacy of the news, and the raw content that it sometimes consists of, can make it difficult to separate personal feelings from sympathy.

“We are used to kind of living in our own little bubbles to an extent, and we’ve always kind of known bad things happen elsewhere, but by the time we get the news, it’s been a couple weeks or things like that,” Dr. Siddall said. “There’s always been kind of a buffer there for most of America’s existence, there was still more of a filter because it was whatever the New York Times decided to report on, it wasn’t as ubiquitous or it wasn’t like you could choose what you were gonna search out. I don’t know that we as a culture and as individuals have found a way to incorporate that into our worldview in a healthy way that allows us to become, still outraged, but desensitized at the same time.”

A concern that people have about the spread of news through the Internet is that the population will become desensitized to tragedies or other events they hear about. Desensitization is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “the process of causing someone to experience something, usually an emotion or a pain, less strongly than before.” The worry is that people may stop having such strong reactions to tragedies the more they hear about them.

“I know that a lot of people have been concerned about, ‘why don’t I feel sadder?’, but I think that begs the question, why do you think you need to feel sadder every single time?” Dr. Siddall said. “Do I have to feel personally in the pits to recognize that something is wrong and something should be done about it, or to have justifiable anger at others for not intervening, for instance? How we work through those things, as individuals and as a culture, are still questions that are kind of up in the air.”

Having grown up with modern technology, teens are more used to the speed with which news is disseminated. However, some people are particularly concerned about teenagers becoming desensitized. “When a news story appears concerning yet another traumatic large-scale event, teens are hit with an initial wave of sadness, which transforms itself into a jaded, hopeless attitude and which in many cases eventually disappears entirely as they go on with their lives,” junior Eva Nichols said. “Although teens are affected each and every time a new story hits, the perceived prevalence of these events has contributed to an overarching desensitization. Most teens have even come to expect stories of these tragedies, although there is still a recognition of them being an aberration and not the norm.”

One of the reasons negative news can make people so upset is the feeling that there’s nothing they can do. The Internet has made it so that news comes from across the world, meaning that there is not always something immediate that people can do to help. “Many times [teens] feel as if they cannot make a difference, so why should they even bother attempting to do so,” junior Eva Nichols said. “This cynicism is a product of a generation who has grown up with such a normalized exposure that even the specific events, which are obviously all horrific, seem to blend in together and become homogenized.”

Many students at the school see the Internet and spread of news as something that has had a positive impact on students. Some are using the Internet as a tool to educate themselves on national and global issues. “There’s no indication to me that teenagers and children are becoming desensitized,” senior Spencer Johnston said. “If anything, teenagers are motivated and active. The student protests after the Parkland shooting are perfect examples. Teenagers are taking their chance at changing the world, not sitting around hopelessly.”