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Social Networks and Their Effect on Mental Health

“Teen Social Networks Linked to Adult Depression”, posted on Medical Xpress by Karessa Weir of Michigan State University, looks at how teens’ social networks influence their depressive symptoms in adolescence and then again in adulthood. In the study referenced done at Michigan State University, teens were asked to name up to five male friends and five female friends, and their depression was then tracked. An interesting initial conclusion derived by this study was that sociability had little effect on adulthood male depression, but had a sizeable impact on the long term emotional health of women. The study identified naming few friends in adolescence for both genders led to poor emotional health in adulthood. However, it is theorized that women face far more societal pressure when it comes to how others perceive their social status, therefore young women feel far more pressure to be popular and have more friends. 

The article then went on to state that women who had large social networks as adolescents in fact had poorer mental health in adolescence than their peers with few friends, but went on to be more emotionally satisfied. This is attributed to the fact that the social pressures and psychological burdens demanded of popularity in adolescence prepare women emotionally and socially for dealing with academia and the workforce. It is interesting to think how early social networks are so influential to future emotional and professional success. Those with few friends in youth went on to be more depressed in the future, as they were less societally prepared for adulthood. The ebb and flow of depressive symptoms is described as resembling a U-shape, in which depressive symptoms peak in adolescence and early 30s, while subsiding in early adulthood. Again, the severity these peaks is drastically more severe in women than in men due to societal expectations for women to be sociable.

This has a clear correlation to what we have studied in class in terms of social networks, where being a more connected node has influences on your emotional state. Societal expectations placed on women to conform to popularity ideals make it such that there is far more pressure for women to become a powerful node with many connections, which in the moment leads to emotional and psychological strain, but prepares these women for being a powerful and highly connected node in the future and for making future strong connections. We also see the real life impacts of being a node with few connections, being increased depression regardless of gender. It is then interesting to extrapolate what it means to be a local bridge or a highly connected node beyond the social structure itself to the influence of this on the life trajectory of the individual node, thus translating the power structures we see to their real life impacts.


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October 2020