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Internet Use Might Boost Depression

Created: 22 November, 2017
Updated: 13 September, 2023
2 min read

Increased time spent online might have contributed to an uptick in symptoms of depression and suicide-related behaviors and thoughts in American young people, new research suggests.

The findings point to the need for parents to monitor how much time their children are spending in front of media screens, in the form of computers, cell phones and tablets.

“These increases in mental health issues among teens are very alarming,” Professor of psychology at San Diego State University Jean Twenge said. “Teens are telling us they are struggling, and we need to take that very seriously.”

Twenge, along with SDSU graduate student Gabrielle Martin and colleagues Thomas Joiner and Megan Rogers at Florida State University, looked at questionnaire data from more than 500,000 United States teens found in two anonymous, nationally representative surveys that have been conducted since 1991.

They also looked at data suicide statistics kept by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

They found that the suicide rate for girls aged 13 to 18 increased by 65 percent between 2010 and 2015, and the number of girls experiencing so called suicide related outcomes feeling hopeless, thinking about suicide, planning for suicide or attempting suicide rose by 12 percent.

The number of teenage girls reporting symptoms of severe depression increased by 58 percent.
“When I first saw these sudden increases in mental health issues, I wasn’t sure what was causing them,” Twenge said. “But these same surveys ask teens how they spend their leisure time, and between 2010 and 2015, teens increasingly spent more time with screens and less time on other activities. That was by far the largest change in their lives during this five-year period, and it’s not a good formula for mental health. Although we can’t say for sure that the growing use of smartphones caused the increase in mental health issues, that was by far the biggest change in teens’ lives between 2010 and 2015.”

On the positive side, the researchers found that spending time away from screen and engaging in in-person social interaction, sports and exercise, doing homework, attending religious services, etc., was linked to having fewer depressive symptoms and suicide-related outcomes.

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The researchers reported their findings in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.

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