Social media and smartphone use significantly affect the mental health of teenagers, according to a study published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
The study points out that in the last decade, increasing mental distress and treatment for mental health conditions among youth in North America has paralleled a steep rise in the use of smartphones and social media by children and adolescents.
In Ontario, the proportion of teenagers reporting moderate to serious mental distress increased from 24% in 2013, to 34% in 2015 and to 39% in 2017, paralleled by an increase in health service use. They also reported that between 2009 and 2014, admissions to hospital for intentional self-harm increased by 110% in Canadian girls. And that suicide is now the second leading cause of death for Canadian youth.
At the same time, social media use has increased significantly; the percentage of Ontario’s teenagers who reported spending 5 or more hours a day on social media increased from 11% in 2013, to 16% in 2015 and to 20% in 2017.
They also referenced a number of studies showing that internet addiction can lead to body image issues, eating disorders, and increased negative emotions. If you would like to read the study in full you can at cmaj.ca
So what can be done? According to the review, kids who spend less time socializing in person are more vulnerable, and easy access to information about how to commit suicide online increases risk. Parents should speak to their teens, and younger kids, about the risks of social media, and how to navigate the online world safely; including limiting online time and mixing it with time spent socializing in person as well as other healthy activities.
For more resources on preventing self harming behaviours one available resource is Gabriel’s Light. Started and run by parents of teens who committed suicide.