Teen sui­cides rise with smart­phone use

Men­tal health clin­ics over­loaded since emer­gence of so­cial me­dia

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY LAURA KELLY

A study shows that sui­cide rates among teenagers have risen along with their own­er­ship of smart­phones and use of so­cial me­dia, sug­gest­ing a dis­turb­ing link be­tween tech­nol­ogy and teen self-harm.

Cit­ing fed­eral data and two na­tion­ally rep­re­sen­ta­tive sur­veys of more than 500,000 ado­les­cents, re­searchers found a strong cor­re­la­tion be­tween the time teens be­gan us­ing smart­phones a decade ago and a sharp rise in re­ports of se­ri­ous men­tal health is­sues.

From 2010 to 2015, a record num­ber of teenagers were re­port­ing de­pres­sive symp­toms and over­load­ing men­tal health clin­ics, while sui­cide rates climbed for the first time in decades, said psy­chol­o­gist Jean Twenge, lead au­thor of the study, which was pub­lished Tues­day in the journal Clin­i­cal Psy­cho­log­i­cal Sci­ence.

“I’ve never seen such sud­den, large changes,” Ms. Twenge said in an in­ter­view with The Washington Times, not­ing that the big­gest in­crease oc­curred within a sin­gle year.

“In this case, we tried to just go sys­tem­at­i­cally through pos­si­ble ex­pla­na­tions and rule them in or out and, at the end of the day, the pro­nounced in­crease in smart­phone own­er­ship seems like the most log­i­cal ex­pla­na­tion,” she said. “It was by far the largest change in teens’ lives be­tween 2012 and 2015.”

Ms. Twenge, who teaches psy­chol­ogy at San Diego State Univer­sity, said the most strik­ing find­ing was the cor­re­la­tion be­tween cu­mu­la­tive time teenagers spent on smart­phones and their de­pres­sive thoughts and

sui­ci­dal ac­tions.

Among teens who spent five hours or more on their phones per day, 48 per­cent had sui­cide-re­lated out­comes such as de­pres­sion, think­ing about sui­cide, mak­ing sui­cide plans or at­tempt­ing sui­cide.

The statis­tic for teens who spent one or two hours on their elec­tronic de­vices per day was ex­po­nen­tially lower, with 28 per­cent re­port­ing any of the sui­cidere­lated out­comes.

Ms. Twenge said the big­gest take­away from the study is that peo­ple should limit their screen time to about two hours a day to pro­tect their men­tal health.

“The pre­pon­der­ance of the ev­i­dence points in the di­rec­tion of more screen time lead­ing to de­pres­sion and men­tal health is­sues,” she said. “Do­ing noth­ing risks th­ese men­tal health is­sues con­tin­u­ing to be at th­ese his­tor­i­cally very high lev­els. … The re­search sug­gests we shouldn’t be telling peo­ple to give up their phones en­tirely; it’s lim­it­ing the amount of screen time.”

The study re­lies on data from the U.S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion, the Mon­i­tor­ing the Fu­ture sur­vey and the Youth Risk Be­hav­ior Sur­veil­lance Sys­tem. Among its find­ings, the num­ber of teenagers:

● Who spent at least five hours on their smart­phones per day more than dou­bled from 2009 to 2015, from 8 per­cent to 19 per­cent.

● Re­port­ing feel­ings of de­pres­sion or plan­ning or at­tempt­ing sui­cide rose from 32 per­cent in 2009 to 36 per­cent in 2015. This in­crease was higher among girls, from 40 per­cent in 2009 to 45 per­cent in 2015.

● Re­port­ing use of so­cial me­dia every day soared from 58 per­cent in 2009 to 87 per­cent in 2015. Th­ese teens were 14 per­cent more likely to be de­pressed, com­pared with less-fre­quent so­cial me­dia users.

Re­searchers have sev­eral rea­sons why they be­lieve in­creased screen time and so­cial me­dia use con­trib­ute to de­pres­sion, both in­di­rectly and di­rectly.

One the­ory sug­gests that in­creased screen us­age takes time away from ac­tiv­i­ties — such as in-per­son so­cial in­ter­ac­tion, play­ing sports or ex­er­cis­ing, home­work, print me­dia and at­tend­ing re­li­gious ser­vices — that con­trib­ute to teenagers’ pos­i­tive men­tal health.

An­other points out that teens who re­port more smart­phone use ex­hibit a loss of sleep, a well-es­tab­lished risk fac­tor for de­pres­sion.

The di­rect ef­fects of so­cial me­dia are not com­pletely un­der­stood, said Ms. Twenge, call­ing the in­ter­net a “caul­dron of self-ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion for women.” She said girls had the high­est rates of de­pres­sion linked to so­cial me­dia use.

“We found that the men­tal health is­sues — the spike was es­pe­cially pro­nounced for teen girls and that so­cial me­dia use was cor­re­lated with de­pres­sion only for girls. That might be be­cause of the pres­sure for teen girls to get a lot of likes and a lot of fol­low­ers on so­cial me­dia,” said Ms. Twenge, au­thor of the re­cently pub­lished book “iGen: Why To­day’s Su­per-Con­nected Kids Are Grow­ing Up Less Re­bel­lious, More Tol­er­ant, Less Happy — and Com­pletely Un­pre­pared for Adult­hood.”

Brooke Shan­non is the founder of Wait Un­til 8th, a grass-roots move­ment among par­ents who seek to de­lay smart­phone use by their chil­dren un­til af­ter they reach eighth grade.

In only about six months, what started as a com­mu­nity ini­tia­tive among par­ents in Ms. Shan­non’s daugh­ters’ school in Austin, Texas, has grown to a na­tional move­ment of more than 4,000 fam­i­lies across all 50 states.

“It does make a big dif­fer­ence to have strength in num­bers,” Ms. Shan­non said. “It just makes it a lot eas­ier for the kids to know other friends that are wait­ing, and when they’re on the bus that they’re not the only ones that don’t have a de­vice.”

Ms. Twenge echoed that sen­ti­ment, say­ing that among her con­ver­sa­tions with teenagers, the most de­press­ing fact she found was that peo­ple bury their faces in their phones even when they are around oth­ers.

“The email that de­pressed me the most was from a high school stu­dent who com­mented, ‘I want to talk to my friends at lunch, but they’re all on their phones.’ Yeah, that broke my heart,” she said.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

TRAGEDY: Par­ents prayed in front of Lake Min­neola High School in Florida on Tues­day af­ter a stu­dent shot and killed him­self there. Re­searchers have found a dis­turbingly strong cor­re­la­tion be­tween heavy so­cial me­dia use and teenage sui­cide, along with other men­tal health is­sues.

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