Potential Health Concerns and Benefits of Social Media

It is doubtless that social media is hugely influential and has a large impact on many aspects of our lives; we use it to stay up to date with trends and current events and share things with friends and family. We use various platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Snapchat, and many others for an extraordinary amount of time – an average of about 106 minutes per day.

Of course, there are many pros and cons to social media with the rise of digital networking, but many sources of mass media seem to tend to put social media use in a negative light. For example, a post by Huffington explained that excessive use of social media use may over time contribute to poor mental health. But while this article states that there are some studies that do suggest a correlation between social media habits and mental well-being, there is no basis for causality. Social media and mental health are both multi-faceted and complex each in their own way, and we should tread lightly around exaggerated claims of causation.

On the other hand, some suggest social media can be a very helpful resource for some health conditions. Social media offers a unique means of fostering support and sharing information. This methodological review, conducted at the University of Melbourne reviewed and analyzed studies that investigated such benefits in relation to chronic disease management, and found that some studies examined social media’s impact in chronic disease management to be positive, and none were found that suggested negative effects. However, many studies turned out to have covered a narrow range of social media platforms, and older ones, including discussion forums and online support groups. This review of past literature indicates that that social media can become a more meaningful and effective tool for chronic disease management if individual intervention methods can be delivered, but more research must be conducted in order to further investigate such affordances.

Like many other sources of media that rose with the new digital age, social media has apparent pros and cons. Questions that should be asked as such platforms evolve include, how can social media be used to promote awareness for certain health conditions, and what can be done to best accommodate affected individuals? To what extent does social media negatively impact the mental health of the general public, and is this redeemed by the many positive ways social media is used by specific populations?

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Hey Kids, Want Some Drugs?

The methods and language of the drug industry can be quite curious; despite the fact that all medications, prescription or otherwise, are in fact drugs, it seems to try to separate “medication” from “drug.” As such, the regulation of medications by the FDA is often ambiguous and confusing, and the language used can be misleading for consumers.  For example, amphetamines are under the same class of drug cocaine and methamphetamine is under. Amphetamines is a stimulant that has been the traditional medication for treating ADHD, but under the familiar brand name of Adderall. This is one of many marketing strategies used by the drug industry, and ever present in the media.

In recent years, there has been a sharp increase in ADHD prescriptions for not just children, but also for adults. By 2012, there were nearly 16 million monthly prescriptions for people aged 20-39. This phenomenon has been fueled by the drug industry pushing for more prescriptions, resulting in media influences present in advertisements and articles suggesting not only that restless children should be on Adderall, but also cultivating a wide spread notion that possible symptoms should be treated right away to prevent further mental health problems.

There has been an increasing concern in the medical community that ADHD is over diagnosed, and that pressure from concerned parents combined with brief and superficial assessments are likely to lead some children receiving inappropriate prescriptions. Many of these prescriptions are allegedly “new” drugs under different names that drug companies market despite the compounds in the drug being the same, and often these new drugs are not even FDA approved, as the video below explains.

 

Ritalin, Concerta and Modafinal (which are also amphetamines, like Adderall) are examples of this marketing scheme, and it is clearly working. During the 1990s, there was a 700% increase in the use of psychostimulants, with the United States consuming 90% of the world’s supply of the drugs. This begs the question, is ADHD overdiagnosed in the US? Why aren’t other countries exhibiting proportionate amounts of ADHD diagnoses? The symptoms of ADHD can easily be seen in toddlers; children are known for their short attention spans and restlessness. But the marketing of ADHD medications in popular sources of media (i.e. commercials and magazine ads) have led parents to believe that something is wrong with their child.

Further, although behavioral literature shows that stimulants can help improve sustained attention, they may also impair performance of tasks that require adaptation, flexibility, and planning. Other adverse effects include increased heart rate, insomnia, and anorexia. The anorexic effects of amphetamines are especially problematic in a population of young children that require adequate levels of nutrition.

Adderall and other amphetamines used for medical purposes and treatments should be fully disclosed as a drug, not a cure – and should be treated as such. Prescribed medication can induce positive behavior effects, but also come with other dangerous effects like any other drug. The media plays a significant role in perpetrating a fragmented image of medications to a society who buys into the industry, influenced by fear and fragmented information.

Miran Kim

Why Do People Vaccine-hate?

The recent trend of parents making the decision to not get their children vaccinated is a puzzling phenomenon that has shown the have harmful consequences. Although there is ample evidence showing that vaccines have been historically and scientifically proven to be effective, there is a small, but significant amount of parents who believe that vaccines are actually harmful in some way. So where are they getting such notions, and what are the repercussions?

Many of those opposed to getting their children vaccinated are simply believing in misinformation and myths about vaccines, such as vaccines causing autism, or that the immune system will somehow be compromised due to these vaccines. As this article by Time explains, vaccination rates need to reach a certain threshold to maintain herd immunity, and this rate is going down, causing recent polio and measles outbreaks. What is especially frustrating is that, as Time mentions, these rates are more prevalent in areas of the country where people tend to be more affluent, educated, and liberal. The refusal to vaccinate does not seem to come from a pure lack of resources or other influences, but rather the impression that these people think they know better than what is unanimously agreed upon in medical discourse.

As the LA Times duly notes, the reason why 145 people ended up getting measles (which was ironically spread initially at the Happiest Place on Earth) was because of the large number of parents who refused to get their kids vaccinated. This outbreak is an example of how important sustaining herd immunity is, and falling below the necessary vaccination rate literally puts the entire population of humans at risk.

If the scope of the manifestation of the anti-vaccination movement is not convincing enough, perhaps a more personal take could drive people away from this ridiculously disastrous fallacy. This article by NPR covers a story of a father whose 6 year old son, Rhett, fought leukemia since around age two. Although he is now in remission, he is now in danger of measles, because he cannot be vaccinated due to his recovering immune system. Therein lies the importance of herd immunity – unfortunately, the Krawitt family lives in an area that allows and has the highest rate of “personal belief exemptions,” meaning that parents can legally send their children to school without vaccinations. Carl has unsuccessfully tried to get Rhett’s school district to require immunizations for all those who are able to be medically vaccinated to decrease the high likelihood of an outbreak, which would be a lethal consequence for his son.

The Krawitts should not have to deal with this conflict. Parents can opt out of vaccinating their kids for “personal beliefs” (empirically unfounded ones) and reap the advantage from collective protection, while families like the Krawitts have to deal with the literal risk of death, which is insanely unnecessary and can be so easily avoided.

We can protect children such as Rhett by being concerned, contributing members of society and protecting our most vulnerable – by getting ourselves and our children vaccinated.

Weeding Out the Truth

Marijuana has always been a part of human history, with the earliest written accounts of which date back to around 2600 BC in China. Later in the 17th and 18th centuries, marijuana made its way across the Atlantic where it would prove to be one of the most useful crops in America. Hemp was grown as a fiber and was extremely successful in its production of rope, clothes, and paper. In 1892, the Indian Hemp Commission was established to investigate possible health dangers of cannabis. The Commission came to the conclusion that there were no injurious, physical, mental, or moral effects of marijuana after two years of research. So where did the negative perceptions of marijuana come from?

Around the mid 1900s, many factors influenced the change in that heavily influenced the way the society views marijuana today. One such factor was Harry J Anslinger’s successful push for the criminalization of marijuana, with the help of William Randolf Hurst, who was an American newspaper publisher. Hurst supported Anslinger’s anti-marijuana movement and cherry-picked a misleading series of quotes from police reports to depict crimes committed by drug users. The pervasive nature of mass media led to public hysteria and initiated the “Reefer Madness.”

Despite multiple reports that determined no link between cannabis sativa and criminal behavior and other health concerns, the enduring negative image of marijuana that started in the early 1900s has remained in our present culture.

Current media, such as this post by Huffington, makes a sweeping generalizing as their article titles, which can be very misleading for the general public. In the said article, which is titled, “The Scary Way Long Term Marijuana Use Can Impact Memory” later mentions results are actually inconclusive, and that findings are sometimes mixed, meaning more extensive research must be done. Obviously, if research results in mixed findings, making such a reaching claim with the key word “scary” is deceptive on Huffington’s part. These discrepancies can be damaging and can lead to people creating false, misled schemas about marijuana.

However, other popular media have released articles that have challenged the notion of marijuana being a directly mentally/physically harmful drug, like this post by Wired. In fact, Wired refers to medical effects of marijuana (specifically the psychoactive component cannabidiol) that have shown promising relief in research, such as reducing seizures and invoking relaxation, which has shown improved sleep in those with insomnia.

Because it has been historically politically advantageous to be against drugs, this ideology spread to laws involving the use of cannabis. Not only did the propaganda from the “Reefer Madness” era generate unfounded fear and negative associations with immigrants, present public understanding has also been limited to this residual suspicion. As such, the recriminalization of possession has exhibited many setbacks to the reintroduction of marijuana as a medicinal/therapeutic agent. However, as more research and ongoing studies are published, hopefully the strict aversion toward this drug can transition to an acceptance for its medical potential.

Miran Kim