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Facebook Depression? Mental Health On-Line

Posted on: October 12, 2012 12:32 am
Tags: Mental health, Behavioral health, Promising practices and research, Walden, Addiction

As Newsweek writer Tony Dokoupil indicates in his article iCrazy, published 7/16/12, speculation about the potentially harmful impacts of internet use are “at least as old as hyperlinks.”  

Questions about the “link” between Facebook and depression among adolescents highlight the potential posed by social media for good or ill posed.   A study published in 2011 in Pediatrics by the New American Society of Pediatrics offers guidelines for parents on adolescent internet use as well as explores pros and cons for teens and social media engagement.   For some teens, the intense nature of social media can appear to trigger depression—especially when on-line interactions are filled with negative experiences.  It is not clear, however, if this is a case of teens with existing depression feeling worsening of symptoms, or if “Facebook depression” is a condition in its own right.  For other teens, particularly those with higher levels of esteem, Facebook has an opposite and positive impact on their connections with others. 

No matter our age, many researchers are concerned that the omnipresent nature of digital technology in our lives may be promoting feelings of anxiety and depression for some of us.  Elias Aboujaoude, a psychiatrist and director of the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Clinic and Impulse Control Disorders Clinic at Stanford tells Newsweek that “we are becoming more impulsive.”  Aboujaoude sees a link between the 66% increase in diagnoses of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) over the last decade and the rise of on-line technology. 

In fact, there is such an increased use of technology among the general public that the old standard once used to understand internet addiction of 38 hours or more per week on-line, is now the norm.  Newsweek points to studies indicating that more than 1/3 of smart phone users get on-line before going to bed at night, and 1/3 are on-line before they even get out of bed in the morning. Today, internet addiction is gauged more by the nature of the user’s experience than the amount of time spent on-line.  Secretive use, restlessness, and preoccupation with getting on line, as well as unsuccessful attempts to cut back on internet use, are signs of a potential problem. 

In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association will add internet addiction for the first time to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Medicine (DSM).  Studies regarding internet addiction are numerous and international.    The 2010 “Unplugged” study, conducted by the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda, involved 1,000 students from 10 countries, including the United States and students at the University of Maryland.  Students participating undertook the challenge to go without their mobile technology for 24 hours and write about that experience.  The majority of students found this extremely difficult.  One student wrote, “Media is my drug.”  Many reflected that going without their mobile devices made them feel as if they were missing a part of themselves. 

Brain research also contributes to insights on the dual nature of technology’s impact on our well-being.  Chinese researchers have established similarities between brain scans of individuals addicted to the internet and brain scans of individuals addicted to the internet, with shrinkage in the area of the brain responsible for processing of speech, memory, motor control, emotion, sensory, and other information.  On the other hand, a UCLA study suggests that exposure to the internet can improve brain function in some areas. 

Our mental health with respect to internet use may reside in two key areas:  first, our ability to understand potential risks and benefits of technology, and second, our ability to balance our internet use with other face-to-face social interactions and unplugged time.

For more information about Walden Sierra (Walden Behavioral Health’s) range of behavioral health services, go to www.waldensierra.org or contact us if in Southern Maryland at 301-997-1300.                                   

Note:  No post of Walden Sierra (Walden Behavioral Health’s) Behavioral Health Blog is to be considered medical or therapeutic advice.