Our expert answers 3 Questions
My recent research has focused on two areas related to adolescent health: 1) cyberbullying/online harassment and its health impact on adolescents and 2) describing ways adolescents might use online media (i.e., Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) for peer support around mental health-related issues. Given the widespread use of digital communication tools among adolescents, I’d like to use this emerging technology to assist this population in becoming healthier now, while simultaneously preparing them for a transition into healthy adulthood.
I feel like the adolescent population is one that's overlooked in health care due to a perception that kids of this age are particularly difficult to work with, or that they can’t be trusted to adopt healthy behaviors. I have found the opposite to be true—the adolescents I work with in the clinical setting are, for the most part, engaged and passionate about participating in their health and transition to adulthood. However, I hear from some adolescents that they experience stress around relationships with their peers that can be amplified by social media and cyberbullying. Hearing this, I developed an interest in researching the dynamics of online peer relationships and mental health outcomes in adolescents. I’m also a bit of a social media junkie myself, so working with various social media platforms is a good way for me to keep up to date with the online environment that adolescents are interacting in.
Some of the biggest challenges that I see in working with adolescents are access to mental health and behavioral health services, as well as access to well-trained providers. These problems are especially prevalent for those that live in more rural areas where resources for behavioral health counseling are very limited. If we can figure out how to merge positive online peer support with professional mental health resources, we can address some of these disparities while controlling costs. We can provide adolescents with the stronger voice they need when it comes to healthcare and social determinants of health such as the online environment, peer relationships and other forms of social support.