The statistics are quite staggering. The rapid rise in depression, anxiety and suicide are evident when we look at changes of mental heaIth in the past 20 years.
- Between 2009 and 2017 rates of depression among 14 to 17 year olds increase 60%
- The suicide rate per 100,000 people has risen steadily from 11.75 in 2009 to 14.2 in 2018.
- Suicide is now the 2nd leading cause of death for individuals aged 10-34
- The suicide rate has increased 35% since 1999.
- Nearly one-third of adolescents will meet the criteria for anxiety disorder before the age of 18.
- Teens today are twice as likely to see a mental health professional than in the 1980s.
We need to respond to these changes with careful evaluation and realistic adjustments. Technology is here to stay. We can’t throw out our iPhones and return to simpler forms of communication. We need to learn to adapt and help our youth develop adaptive skills. There is even some evidence that younger generations are already adapting and demonstrating better boundaries with technology that those much older. There is hope.
There seems to be two significant factors that contribute to increased mood disorders when it comes to technology.
1. Increased information and therefore social comparison.
Social media and the internet gives us access to vast amounts of information with easy access. This information can come so quickly that we struggle with processing and testing it truthfulness. This is an obvious problem with conspiracy theories that abound on the internet, but it is also a problem when we read of our neighbor’s party down the street. Seeing pictures of neighbors gathered together at an event that we were not invited to can lead to all manner of assumptions and reactions. Without social media we would not have even been aware of the gathering other than maybe seeing a few cars. Now we see their smiling faces and can’t help but think everybody has more fun and is more likable than ourselves. There is some information that it is better not to have.
2. False sense of connection/relationship and limited use of social graces in expression.
Engaging in comments on a social media post gives us a false sense of having a true dialogue. We have to infer tone of voice and meaning of certain words without the facial expression behind them. Research shows that all of us are far more prone to type things that we would never say to someone’s face. These two limits on social interaction just lead to escalating conflicts. Rather than being more connected, we feel increasingly polarized.
We can improve our management of technology and eventually our personal mental health if we learn to set some limits and change our use of technology. Here are just a few recommendations that might offer some help.
Set time limits on your use of social media and devices. All of the social media companies have admitted that they are designed to get and keep your attention so that you will keep scrolling and clicking. Take back your power over the app by setting clear time limits for your use. Notice your emotions as your scroll. The moment your shift into a negative space, stop. Leave the app. Allow yourself time to recover. Never reply to someone’s post in anger. Keep that off the internet.
Intentionally create opportunities for meaningful face to face contact. Remove technology from those spaces. Be present. Listen. Be vulnerable. Real face to face engagement is necessary for our overall health.
Intentionally have times to quiet your mind. Meditate. Allow your mind to process all the information you are having to manage. Don’t feel pressured to make immediate decisions. You need at least 15 minutes of quiet a day. That is a minimum.
Set boundaries around the people you engage on social media. You have the option to “hide” or even block certain individuals. Boundaries on social media apps can help you filter the type of information that is presented to you. Don’t let the social media companies be the filter. You take charge of filtering your own exposure.
That being said, engage with people that are diverse and different from you. If at all possible make those engagements personal and face to face. Don’t block or set limits to the point that you are only hearing and seeing a narrow part of the world. Social media has a way of funneling us that direction. The world is a beautiful place that you can only discover if you open yourself to its diversity of humanity. Do not engage across a distant screen where assumptions are easily made. Engage someone different from you in a real face-to-face relationship.