Home > Uncategorized > Suicide Rates, Suicide Ideation, and Depression Rates Are Higher…. and so is Cell Phone Use

Suicide Rates, Suicide Ideation, and Depression Rates Are Higher…. and so is Cell Phone Use

April 4, 2019

A recent article in Philly Voice by Jeanne Twenge, Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University, provides data supporting her assertion and that of many of her colleagues that the mental health problems among today’s youth are skyrocketing. Among the facts she presents:

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health, administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services… surveyed over 600,000 Americans. Recent trends are startling.

From 2009 to 2017, major depression among 20- to 21-year-olds more than doubled, rising from 7 percent to 15 percent. Depression surged 69 percent among 16- to 17-year-olds. Serious psychological distress, which includes feelings of anxiety and hopelessness, jumped 71 percent among 18- to 25-year-olds from 2008 to 2017. Twice as many 22- to 23-year-olds attempted suicide in 2017 compared with 2008, and 55 percent more had suicidal thoughts. The increases were more pronounced among girls and young women. By 2017, one out of five 12- to 17-year-old girls had experienced major depression in the previous year.

Ms. Twenge dismissed the idea that these data were the result of survey respondents being more forthcoming, noting that the increase in the percentages in the surveys is matched by a corresponding increase in admissions to hospitals and actual suicides. She also dismissed “the usual suspects”: the bad economy and joblessness (the economy improved during that time period); and the opioid epidemic, which affected those over 25 much more than those younger than that cut-off. So… what’s the cause? Ms. Twenge posits it is social media:

…there was one societal shift over the past decade that influenced the lives of today’s teens and young adults more than any other generation: the spread of smartphones and digital media like social media, texting and gaming.

While older people use these technologies as well, younger people adopted them more quickly and completely, and the impact on their social lives was more pronounced. In fact, it has drastically restructured their daily lives.

Compared with their predecessors, teens today spend less time with their friends in person and more time communicating electronically, which study after study has found is associated with mental health issues.

What is the fix? Person-to-person engagement would make a huge difference, but even more important would be some direct instruction on how to communicate civilly and compassionately with each other. My personal observation with social media like FaceBook is that putting people down seems to be a default means of communicating with friends… particularly when the person being put down is universally seen as despicable by your group of friends. It is not hard to see how a middle school or high school student could feel diminished if they became the butt of jokes on line.

Another fix would be to explain to students who use social media that the metrics they use are unimportant in the cosmic scheme and that even the happiest and most exciting “friends” you read about on line experience sadness and depression at some point. On FaceBook everyone is having awesome experiences… which can be depressing if your experience consists of reading social media posts about classmates who seem more glamorous, more attractive, more adventurous, and more popular than you are. When your impact on-line is measured by “likes” and the number of “friends” you have it can be depressing if no one reacts to your posts or accepts you as a friend when you ask.

Maybe the best fix would be to limit one’s time on Facebook to, say, 15 minutes per day and to block anyone whose posts you find aggravating or make you depressed. Instead of using the phone to connect on-line and read about the fabulous lifestyles of classmates, students might use it for FaceTime to engage in face-to-face conversation with friends … it isn’t the same as being with friends “in person”… but that virtual contact is FAR superior to the delusional world one reads about on FaceBook.

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: