5-year study of half-million teens links cell phone use with depression

Overuse of cellphones may lead to loneliness and thoughts of suicide among teens

Caseloads at 93 university counseling centers jumped a remarkable 30% between 2009-2010 from the previous five years, with high schools reporting major increases as well. Two studies of more than a half million adolescents ages 12-18 find a major increase in depression and thoughts of suicide.

The change happens to match the rapid availability and use of cell phones and other screen time, notes a recent research paper published in Clinical Psychological Science.

The study points a finger at the growing popularity of social media.

NPR (National Public Radio) interviewed Jean Twenge, one of the adolescent study’s authors. Her research, NPR reported, “found that teens who spend five or more hours per day on their devices are 71 percent more likely to have one risk factor for suicide. And that’s regardless of the content consumed. Whether teens are watching cat videos or looking at something more serious, the amount of screen time — not the specific content — goes hand in hand with the higher instances of depression.”

“At two hours a day there was only a slightly elevated risk,” Twenge said in a second NPR story. “And then three hours a day and beyond is where you saw the more pronounced increase in those who had at least one suicide risk factor.”

Adolescents in the 2010s spent more time on electronic communication and less time on in-person interaction than any previous generation. The paper notes that humans, as a species, traditionally required close, mostly continuous face-to-face contact with others. Lack of such could lead to both loneliness and thoughts of suicide.

Reduced screen time is a key focus of HBHM’s 5-2-1-0 initiative.

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