Recent findings that matched national survey data by year suggested more new media screen time may be associated with increases in depression and suicide rates among adolescents.
“Another possible reason for the suspected increase in mental health issues is the growing popularity of electronic communication, especially social media. Some studies link frequency of social media use to poor psychological well-being, although other studies instead find links with positive well-being, with outcomes depending on motivation for using social media and whether the frequency of use qualifies as addictive,” Jean M. Twenge, PhD, of San Diego State University, and colleagues wrote. “However, most of these studies use convenience samples of adults, with few using nationally representative samples and even fewer including the especially vulnerable population of adolescents.”
To assess associations between mental health and screen time in adolescents after 2010, researchers analyzed data from two nationally representative surveys of U.S. adolescents in grades 8 through 12 (n = 506,820) and national statistics on suicide deaths in individuals aged 13 to 18 years.
From 2010 to 2015, depressive symptoms, suicide-related outcomes and suicide rates increased among adolescents, particularly females.
Adolescents who spent more time on new media, including social media and electronic devices such as smartphones, were more likely to report mental health issues, while those who spent more time on nonscreen activities, such as in-person social interaction, sports/exercise, homework and print media, were less likely.
Since 2010, iGen adolescents, born between 1995 and 2012, spent more time on new media screen activities and less time on nonscreen activities, which researchers suggest may account for increased depression and suicide rates.
Conversely, cyclical economic factors, including unemployment and the Dow Jones Index, were not associated with depressive symptoms or suicide rates when matched by year.
“Adolescent mental health issues rose sharply since 2010, especially among females. New media screen time is both associated with mental health issues and increased over this time period. Thus, it seems likely that the concomitant rise of screen time and adolescent depression and suicide is not coincidental,” the researchers concluded. – by Amanda Oldt
Disclosures: Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.