In many ways, the latest technology makes our lives better. A single device that acts like a phone, computer, camera, and a map now fits in our pockets. While we’ve grown accustomed to it, there is growing concern that too much technology may be hurting us. As noted in a recent blog post, young people are experiencing increased levels of depression, stress, and anxiety. Some experts suggest that technology plays a role. Right now, researchers are looking at how smartphones and internet gaming, among other technologies, affect our mental health.
Modern technology has changed the way we watch television—first through recording devices that let us watch at a time of our choosing, and more recently by streaming services that allow us to watch entire seasons, or even multiple seasons, in a short period of time. So-called “binge watching” is becoming more common.
Although binge watching is socially acceptable behavior, it can also be socially isolating. People who binge watch are more likely to report having depression, stress, and anxiety, according to a recent survey. A few academic studies have been done at University of Toledo and Texas A & M, but more research is needed to establish causation.
Although parents have worried about teens’ use of phones for decades, smartphones have introduced entirely new possibilities. Teens send about 30 texts per day, which is actually down from recent years, but they are more than making up for it by using apps like Instagram and Snapchat. In a national poll, about half of teens reported feeling addicted to their mobile phones, and 59 percent of parents agreed. About one in four teens report going online “almost constantly.” College students spend more than eight hours a day using mobile devices.
Smartphone overuse may be associated with depression, anxiety, and sleep quality. Although usage differs by gender, mobile phones provide a means of socializing, and reliance on phones may be linked to “fear of missing out” on what’s going on in friends’ lives. Addiction to social media may play a part in excessive mobile phone use, and this addiction is associated with several established behavioral health conditions.
Concerns about the effects of video games on young people have been around almost as long as video games. In 1986, for example, the Journal of Applied Social Psychology looked at the effects of playing video games. Today’s games are nothing like the low-resolution animations of 30 years ago. The user is essentially participating in an action movie, often competing against others. Many people spend hours on end, and they may neglect responsibilities or spending time with others. The American Psychiatric Association has identified “Internet Gaming Disorder” as a possible mental health disorder to be studied.
What does it all mean?
People might joke about being addicted to technology, or even laugh off behavior that would be troublesome if they had any other addiction. Still, even though gadgets may not be harmful like tobacco or illegal drugs are, overreliance on technology can be a problem. It could be covering up a hidden mental health concern. If you feel you need help, use SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or the online treatment locator for assistance.