Laptops, iPhones, iPads, and more have all become major fixtures in the life of the average American. They boost our ability to connect with people all over the world – not to mention the major entertainment factor they provide. But are there repercussions of their prominence in our day-to-day lives?
A new study from San Diego State University has found that increased time spent in front of a screen – such as computers, cell phones, and tablets – may be responsible for the rise in depression and suicide-related behaviors in young Americans.
Through analysis of questionnaire data from over 500,000 U.S. teens, SDSU professor of psychology Jean Twenge and her team compared these survey responses to suicide statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The results showed that the suicide rate for girls from ages 13-18 increased by 65 percent between 2010 and 2015, and the number of teen 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,” says Twenge. “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.” According to Twenge, no other activity had that significant of a change during that period of time.
In further analysis, the researchers found that 48 percent of teens who spend five or more hours per day on electronic devices reported at least one suicide-related outcome. On the other hand, only 28 percent of those who spent less than an hour a day on these devices reported the same. Furthermore, teens who spent a lot of time on electronic devices were more likely to have depressive symptoms.
The researchers believe their findings show how it important it is for parents to monitor the time their children spend in front of screens. “These increases in mental health issues among teens are very alarming,” Twenge said. “Teens are telling us they are struggling, and we need to take that very seriously.”
Another suggestion would be that we all should be spending less time with our electronic devices and more time engaging in social interaction with our peers. Other positive healthy activities include sports and exercise, attending religious services, and even doing homework! All of these activities are linked to decreased depressive symptoms and fewer suicide-related outcomes.