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Social media and depression: Apps tap into forms of psychological torture

GOOCHLAND COUNTY, Va. -- Brushing the page with beauty and the room with love, Goochland High School senior Kathleen Norman spends quality time with her sister and a friend.

She tries to take these time outs from a virtual reality that stays close even as she works to distance herself from it.

When Kathleen got her first iPhone in seventh grade, she instantly downloaded the social media apps SnapChat and Instagram and connected with many of her classmates.

"It becomes a primary means of communication of everyone at your school," Kathleen said.

Suddenly, Kathleen said the apps took over her life.

"It's addicting, like looking at your screen and finding new pieces of information that you think you need, but you're just filling space," Kathleen said.

And, she noticed herself becoming depressed by what others posted.

Kathleen Norman

Kathleen Norman

"If I see my other close friends hanging out together, and I didn't get invited or you see things you didn't want to see," Kathleen said. "It just makes you sad."

The social media blitz, combined with the unexpected death of her cousin on her birthday in eight grade, left her increasingly depressed as she entered high school.

"I was a really sad person, I felt black on the inside," Kathleen said.

Kathleen's emotions reflect what CBS 6 revealed in an earlier story about teen depression.

State data shows nearly 30 percent of all high school students surveyed in Virginia are dealing with constant sadness or hopelessness.

And, nearly 40 percent of girls felt that way.

Kathleen said social media can just make things her more if you don't moderate your usage.

For example, she said kids can spin into a downward spiral when they send a "snap" to a friend and that friend doesn't write back.

"Thee thing people get upset about is if you leave them on open, like leave them unread, that means you saw their SnapChat but you didn't respond. That is a big thing that people get upset about," Kathleen said.

Psychologist Matt Bitsko

Psychologist Matt Bitsko

Psychologist Matt Bitsko, Owner and Director of Health and Family Psychologists of Virginia, counsels a lot of teens experiencing anxiety and depression.

"It used to be before social media if you had problems at school, they happened during school hours, they're extended 24-7 now," Bitsko said.

He said social media taps into four of the five most terrifying forms of psychological torture: sleep deprivation, shaming, solitary confinement, and exploitation of phobias.

"These are going to have a direct impact on a middle schooler or high schooler's mental health," Bitsko said.

And, Bitsko is concerned about a new app that some parents may not have heard of: Finstagram, or Fake Instagram.

It is supposed to be the exact opposite of Instagram where you can share the darkest parts of your life.

"When you have nothing but both ends of the spectrum that's never good, so we're not being very moderate in how we use social media," Bitsko said.

The Norman family

The Norman family

So what should parents do to help maintain their kids mental health?

He said social media can be positive, so you shouldn't force them to cut it out completely, but moderation is key.

"It has to do with trying to figure out how can they do these things which are going to build their confidence, build their social skills, make sure they have a ton of face to face activities," Bitsko said.

And that's exactly what Kathleen did, but first she decided to cleanse her brain by getting off social media for a few months.

"I read a lot of books, I invested in like my art and stuff I like to write, journaling, I started talking to more people in my classes at school and made more friends, I feel more outgoing," Kathleen said.

Now she feels more comfortable and confident and has this advice for others.

"Use your time to not scroll through your Instagram feed or like pick apart yourself. You can better yourself by reading books, or doing your art, or talking to someone. There's so many things to do and so much information to know that it's a waste of time," Kathleen said.

Dr. Bitsko said parents also need to take a good look at how they're using social media themselves.

He said kids model their parents' behavior, so make sure you're not always buried in your phone or reacting to people's posts, or your own, in a negative way.