Oakland, CA — Teens spend a LOT of time on their smartphones. They also increasingly experience symptoms of depression and anxiety. So it’s tempting to assume that the web is one big FOMO-inducing, pit of despair.
But recent research sponsored by HopeLab and Well Being Trust has found that the link between digital media use and youth mental health is much more complicated than “Internet use causes teenage depression.”
The report, which examined the “digital health” habits of over 1,300 people between the ages of 14 and 22, suggests that teens and young adults frequently use the Internet as a positive mental health tool to seek motivation and inspiration when they are feeling depressed. For example, they may research their symptoms when they are mentally or physically unwell, or even seek appropriate help from professionals and peers.
Of the subjects with moderate to severe symptoms of depression:
- 90 percent reported using the Internet to research mental health issues.
- 75 percent said they seek out blogs, podcasts, and videos about the health stories of others.
- 38 percent used mobile apps related to well-being.
- 32 percent use texting, video calls, and other tools to connect with health providers through the Internet.
But that’s not to say Internet use doesn’t also have a dark side (duh). The study also captured the potentially negative impact of social media on adolescent mental health, particularly for those already experiencing mood disorders. For example, respondents with moderate to severe depression were 18 times more likely to say that using social media makes them feel left out compared to non-depressed participants.
Yet paradoxically, 30 percent of respondents with moderate to severe symptoms of depression said that social media is “very” important to them for feeling less alone. Among non-depressed people, that number drops to 7 percent.
You can read more about the survey’s findings here.