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A Bloomington mental health provider welcomes talk of a warning label on social media

McLean County Center for Human Services Community Outreach Coordinator Elizabeth McCormack.
Melissa Ellin
McLean County Center for Human Services Community Outreach Coordinator Elizabeth McCormack.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy published a social media advisory last year, pointing out the dangers their use poses to youth and steps everyone can take to keep them safe.

Murthy announced last week that he wants a surgeon general’s warning across social media platforms. It would reflect those already in place on tobacco and alcohol products. For that to happen, Congress would need to pass a law.

While there’s been no word on whether that will happen and the jury seems to be out on how effective a warning label may be, Elizabeth McCormack with the McLean County Center for Human Services said she is on board.

“(It’s) definitely a good thing to do,” she said on WGLT’s Sound Ideas. “It's probably necessary, I would say.”

Research has proven time and time again that youth are spending hours a day on social media, and they themselves say it can have a negative impact — including local youth.

McCormack — like the surgeon general — points out that social media can have a host of adverse effects on youth mental health.

“You can see that they end up becoming frequently more isolated,” she said as an example. “They struggle with bullying. Anxiety increases significantly. We see more depressive symptoms, and so it's really a concerning situation.”

A warning label could help change that. McCormack said she thinks it may get parents to start thinking about the issue more. It could even encourage them to take a more proactive approach to their children’s social media usage.

But even If that doesn’t happen, McCormack said she thinks families need to initiate “frank conversations” on the topic.

“Parents and families in general need to have some really healthy limits in place so that children can be helped to understand that this is a potential way to connect with people, but it's also something that can be very negative and can be harmful,” she said.

Like others, McCormack doesn’t see social media as all bad or all good. She said there are ups and downs to usage for adults and youth.

However, she said there are clear downsides to “turning (youth) loose in the great, big, wide world” of social media without some discourse.

“This kind of interaction on social media is healthy and acceptable, and we applaud you for it and have fun,” she said is a good way to get the conversation going. That way, it’s easier to demonstrate “examples of these other kinds of uses of social media are not healthy and they're not okay, and we'd rather you not do it.”

She said she’d like to see parents start to do more of this “leading by example” behavior — regardless of whether Congress approves a surgeon general’s warning for social media.

We depend on your support to keep telling stories like this one. WGLT’s mental health coverage is made possible in part by Report For America and Chestnut Health Systems. Please take a moment to donate now and add your financial support to fully fund this growing coverage area so we can continue to serve the community.

Melissa Ellin is a reporter at WGLT and a Report for America corps member, focused on mental health coverage.