Researching your anxiety? According to FIU researchers, those internet searches could be making worse

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Alba Rosa | Opinion Director

Students curious enough to research their mental health concerns often turn to social media for answers. But a recent FIU study is sounding the alarm to this ever increasing form of self-medication. 

Conducted by Center for Children and Family Professor Jeremy W. Pettit and graduate student Rebecca Wolenski, the study examined 250 students, a large portion of them confessing to relying on the Internet – including social media, books and websites – for coping strategies.

“Generally, this type of information-seeking can be considered positive because it is problem-focused,” says Pettit. “But it’s important to remember its effectiveness depends on the quality of information.”

Anxiety is among the most common mental health challenges among young people, particularly college students, with 77 percent of students experiencing moderate to severe psychological distress, according to the American College Health Association.

Moreover, only a fifth of students experiencing mental health distressors seek care, students often citing a lack in health insurance or uncomfortability with asking for help as primary deterrences .

Instead, many turn to social media, thanks to the ease of access, and anonymity. 

Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp and Instagram are among the most popular havens for consuming content and information, according to a 2022 survey conducted by Statista

However, according to Pettit and Wolenski’s research, the blend of news and entertainment on social media might lead an unsuspecting student to blur the line between factual and non-factual information. 

Among the 250 students participating in this study, only 18 percent followed health professionals on social media.

The others relied on advice from bloggers and popular inspirational pages, a breeding ground for inaccurate information, considering students utilizing these resources were associated with low knowledge of anxiety. 

“My strongest recommendation is to dive deeper into the information you are absorbing to determine where that information is coming from,” said Wolesnki. “Is the information pulled from a research study or is it someone’s opinion?”

Wolenski wants students to know that looking for information on social media isn’t bad, so long as they turn to reliable medical and psychology websites, like Psychology Today, to double-check the information.

Rachel Rodriguez, a journalism major and student assistant at the Center of Leadership at FIU, calls social media a “double-edged sword” because, although useful, her bad experiences in social media when she was young made her rethink where to get her information.

Overall, Wolenski encourages students to be curious and to double-check sources to treat their anxiety effectively.

“What we do know is that people are searching for information and I want to continue to encourage that curiosity,” said Wolenski. “I just recommend checking your sources on social media before implementing coping strategies that you may learn of through those platforms.”

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