Tag Archives: teenagers

Teenagers’ mental health is deteriorating — and social media might have something to do with it

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Concerns are growing over teenagers’ mental health, particularly regarding social media’s potentially negative impact. In academia and in the media, increased attention is being paid to the issue.

Mental health, across ages and generations, should be understood as a public health issue; public health is about promoting healthy lifestyles as much as it is about preventing and responding to diseases. Because mental health issues affect people’s physical and emotional well-being, managing mental health issues is central to public health goals. 

Untreated or unrecognized mental health problems may affect all aspects of an individual’s health, not least their emotional well-being and social development. Teenagers, in particular,  may be left feeling socially isolated and unable to make vocational, social, or interpersonal contributions to society; in short, it’s a public health threat.

In recent news, the correlation between social media and mental health issues has gradually garnered more attention. In fact, a recent study by ExpressVPN found that 86% of teens reported changes to their happiness due to social media. This could be interpreted in a number of ways, but one question we need to ask ourselves, is how much of a role does social media play in mental health, and what are the most occuring issues?

The most common teen mental health issues

According to established research, around 70 percent of mental health disorders were present in individuals before they reached 25, meaning that the adolescent years are a critical period for promoting mental wellness. It should be noted that teenagers, during this time, can be affected by mental health disorders of all kinds, including those more commonly associated with adulthood. However, several distinct aspects of mental health may be more affected during adolescence, and several conditions are more prevalent across adolescence:

Emotional disorders 

Emotional disorders are psychological disorders that are predominantly characterized by  “maladjustive emotional reactions that are inappropriate or disproportionate to their cause”, according to the APA Dictionary of Psychology. These emotional disorders are common in teenagers. For instance, the World Health Organization (WHO) notes that 3.6 percent of 10 to 14 year-olds and 4.6 percent of 15 to 19 year-olds experience anxiety disorders.

Eating disorders

Societal pressures may make teenagers, who are particularly prone to be influenced by dominant ideals, more likely to develop eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia. Eating disorders occur across the gender spectrum and are characterized by abnormal eating behaviors and a preoccupation with food; most often, this is linked to concerns about body size and weight. 

Behavioral disorders

More likely to be diagnosed in younger adolescents than in older adolescents, behavioral disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and conduct disorder (CD), are among the most common teen mental health issues. Behavioral disorders are characterized by a pattern of disruptive and destructive behaviors that last for six or more months.

According to the WHO, an estimated one in seven 10 to 19 year-olds (14 percent) “experience mental health conditions, yet these remain largely unrecognized and untreated.”

How social media may exacerbate teen mental health issues

It’s no secret that teenagers and social media go hand-in-hand. A plethora of information and research shows that while social media platforms may help adolescents form the peer relationships that are crucial to the formative brain and personality, there are a number of troubling downsides. 

For one, social media has been shown to be addictive; likes and other interactions activate certain areas of the brain, the same reward areas that are activated when we see people we love or win prizes. Dopamine release proves to be a powerful motivator and is likely a factor in social media addiction. 

The study on Gen Z’s social media habits show that 61 percent are concerned about social media addiction. Respondents to the international survey also noted that other aspects of their emotional well-being were impacted by social media, including their levels of anxiety and self-esteem.

Teens who are predisposed to eating disorders may find that social media provides ample influence. 

Solving these challenges is a matter of greater awareness followed by public health measures and messaging that aim to remove some of the power social media has over teenagers and young adults. There is no straightforward solution to these issues, but as the body of evidence grows showing the impact on teenage mental health, it’s becoming more pressing.

Heavy video gaming in teens could point to depression, if it’s always playing alone

Teens who play video games for more than four hours might suffer from depression — but socializing can ward off the danger, according to a new study.

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Heavy gaming, particularly in boys, might raise a few warning signs. However, not everyone who plays extensively every day risks developing gaming addiction. The negative effects of heavy gaming can be mitigated by socially engaging with friends either online or in real life while playing. High-quality friendships may even make teens immune from depression symptoms associated with heavy video game use, the researchers report.

“If these adolescents are sitting around playing games together with their friends or chatting regularly with their friends online as they play, this could be part of a perfectly normal developmental pattern,” says study leader Michelle Colder Carras, PhD, a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Mental Health at the Bloomberg School.

“We shouldn’t assume all of them have a problem.”


Gaming hard

Carras and her team used data recorded between 2009-2012 by the annual Monitor Internet and Youth Study, a school-based survey of almost 10,000 teenagers in the Netherlands. The kids were asked about their gaming habits, such as how often they played games, about their social media use, and their friendships. It also included questions about addictive behaviors — do they feel like they can stop gaming if they want to? Maybe they can’t? Do they get irritable when they can’t play?

The analysis focused on several types of respondents, most notably on heavy gamers who reported frequent online socializing and those who didn’t. Carras’ team found that in broad lines, symptoms of video game addiction depend on time spent gaming as well as the level of social engagement that is included in gaming. Those who were socially active online reported fewer symptoms.

All subsets of heavy gamers had more depressive symptoms than their peers, but boys seem especially vulnerable — those who were not very active on online communication media reported higher levels of loneliness and anxiety, no matter how good their friendships were. Girls who played video games heavily but were very active in online social settings were less lonely and socially anxious but reported lower self-esteem.

Most of the respondents who said they play four or more hours each day did report depressive symptoms, Carras said. But not all gaming-related disorders need treatment, she added. Parents and doctors need to work at understanding the underlying reasons why their teen plays.

Good games, bad games

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Instead of worrying that playing a lot of games means there’s a problem, they should focus on the kids who don’t seem socially engaged or show other depressive symptoms.

“Our findings open up the idea that maybe playing a lot of video games can be part of having an active social life,” she says.

“Rather than seeing a lot of video game playing and worrying that this reflects gaming-related problems, parents and clinicians should figure out whether these teens also have high-quality friendships. It could just be that they have good friends who they like to hang out and play video games with. That is probably not a worrisome equation.”

Is the child playing to bond or socialize with others? That’s a-ok.

Is he or she playing all the time to cope with the real world, seeing the game world as a safe place or an escape from loneliness? That’s not.

Carras believes that older teens can usually tell if their use of games or the internet is unhealthy, but younger ones may need help to understand their own behavior. They also need help to handle the problems that may arise from their excessive gaming, and the underlying causes that pushed them to it in the first place.

The team says the results, though based on data from the Netherlands, are likely indicative for other developed countries such as the US as well. Internet Gaming Disorder has been proposed for further study in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM-5. Still, it’s not yet clear how to distinguish engaged gamers, who show few symptoms of addiction and depression, from problematic gamers, who lose control over gaming.

The full paper “Video gaming in a hyperconnected world: A cross-sectional study of heavy gaming, problematic gaming symptoms, and online socializing in adolescents” has been published in the journal Computers and Human Behavior

Teen alcohol and hard drug consumption reaches new lows – but not marijuana

Teenagers’ use of hard drugs, alcohol and tobacco in the US has gone down significantly in recent years, reaching the lowest level since the 1990s. However, marijuana consumption remains high.

Image credits: Valentin Ottone.

The results derive from the annual Monitoring the Future study, which has now reached its 42nd year. They surveyed 45,000 students in some 380 public and private secondary schools, in grade 8, 10, and 12. What they found is a strong decline trend from last year, especially in 8th and 10th grade teens. It’s the lowest rate since 1991. In fact, the overall percentage of teens using any of the illicit drugs other than marijuana has been in a gradual, long-term decline since the last half of the 1990s, when their peak rates reached 13 percent, 18 percent and 21 percent, respectively for the three grades.

“That’s still a lot of young people using these dangerous drugs without medical supervision, but the trending is in the right direction,” said Lloyd Johnston, the study’s principal investigator. “Fewer are risking overdosing as teenagers, and hopefully more will remain abstainers as they pass into their twenties, thereby reducing the number who become casualties in those high-risk years.”

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the decline of alcohol consumption. Binge drinking has fallen by half or more at each grade level since peak rates were reached at the end of the 1990s.

“Since 2005, 12th-graders have also been asked about what we call ‘extreme binge drinking,’ defined as having 10 or more drinks in a row or even 15 or more, on at least one occasion in the prior two weeks,” Johnston said. “Fortunately, the prevalence of this particularly dangerous behavior has been declining as well.”

The study also showed encouraging, declining trends when it comes to hard drugs. The MDMA “epidemic” of the early 2000s seems to have faded, as MDMA’s annual prevalence now stands at about 1 percent, 2 percent and 3 percent in grades 8, 10 and 12, respectively.

“The use of MDMA has generally been declining among teens since about 2010 or 2011, and it continued to decrease significantly in 2016 in all three grades even with the inclusion of Molly in the question in more recent years,” Johnston said.

Heroin had similar trends, falling down from 1.6 percent in 1996 to 0.3 percent in 2016 among 8th graders. Among 12th-graders, the decline was from 1.5 percent in 2000 to 0.3 percent in 2016.

“So, among secondary school students, at least, there is no evidence of heroin coming to substitute for prescription narcotic drugs — a dynamic that apparently has occurred in other populations,” Johnston said. “Certainly there will be individual cases where that happens, but overall the use of heroin and prescription narcotics both have declined appreciably and largely in parallel among secondary school students.”

The use of narcotic drugs has remained somewhat stable, but the report highlights that 40% of users got the drugs “from a prescription I had.”

“That suggests that physicians and dentists may want to consider reducing the number of doses they routinely prescribe when giving these drugs to their patients, and in particular to teenagers,” Johnston said.

However, when it comes to marijuana, things are a bit different. While 8th graders are smoking a less than in past years, 9.4% of them consume it. For other teenagers, the figure has basically remained unchanged in the past decade, indicating that getting high is as popular as ever.

Source: University of Michigan.