Youth, Devices & Mental Health

Elsewhere I’ve pondered the question of whether our mental health, as a society, is deteriorating. Certainly, most people with whom I speak seem to think that there are more people with mental health problems. Whether this is due to greater attention on mental health, or and increase in diagnoses is not always clear.

A recent study in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology sought to investigate this question. Lead by investigator Jean Twenge, the researchers looked at the data from 200,000 adolescents and 400,000 adults in the United States; An enormous sample!

They found that amongst adolescents and young adults (aged 18-25) there were massive increases in symptoms of depression. Over a 12-year period, adolescents were 52% more likely, and young adults were 63% more likely, to have symptoms consistent with depression. Young adults were also 47% more likely to have suicidal thoughts. There were no significant increases in older adults with these symptoms over the same period.

Twenge believes that this trend is in part due to devices and digital media. She states that “the increase in digital media use may have had a bigger impact on teens and young adults because older adults’ social lives are more stable”. She also proposed that the interference to sleep caused by digital use may be causing these problems.

There certainly are problems with text-based communication (see here) and sleep issues due to remaining plugged-in until the wee hours. Many of my clients, young and old, experience difficulties sleeping due to their devices. Many of my clients use their devices as an avoidance strategy – enabling difficult problems to remain unresolved and difficult emotions to remain unprocessed.

Twenge provides the following advice: “Make sure your device use doesn’t interfere with sleep, don’t keep phones or tablets in the bedroom at night, and put devices down within an hour of bedtime“. And “make sure digital media use doesn’t interfere with activities … such as face-to-face social interaction, exercise and sleep. Good guidance for us all!

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