Teenage Depression

With teen mental health deteriorating over five years, there’s a likely culprit

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Jean Twenge, San Diego State University

Around 2012, something started going wrong in the lives of teens.

In just the five years between 2010 and 2015, the number of U.S. teens who felt useless and joyless – classic symptoms of depression – surged 33 percent in large national surveys. Teen suicide attempts increased 23 percent. Even more troubling, the number of 13- to 18-year-olds who committed suicide jumped 31 percent.

In a new paper published in Clinical Psychological Science, my colleagues and I found that the increases in depression, suicide attempts and suicide appeared among teens from every background – more privileged and less privileged, across all races and ethnicities and in every region of the country. All told, our analysis found that the generation of teens I call “iGen” – those born after 1995 – is much more likely to experience mental health issues than their millennial predecessors.

What happened so that so many more teens, in such a short period of time, would feel depressed, attempt suicide and commit suicide? After scouring several large surveys of teens for clues, I found that all of the possibilities traced back to a major change in teens’ lives: the sudden ascendance of the smartphone.

All signs point to the screen

Because the years between 2010 to 2015 were a period of steady economic growth and falling unemployment, it’s unlikely that economic malaise was a factor. Income inequality was (and still is) an issue, but it didn’t suddenly appear in the early 2010s: This gap between the rich and poor had been widening for decades. We found that the time teens spent on homework barely budged between 2010 and 2015, effectively ruling out academic pressure as a cause.

However, according to the Pew Research Center, smartphone ownership crossed the 50 percent threshold in late 2012 – right when teen depression and suicide began to increase. By 2015, 73 percent of teens had access to a smartphone.

Not only did smartphone use and depression increase in tandem, but time spent online was linked to mental health issues across two different data sets. We found that teens who spent five or more hours a day online were 71 percent more likely than those who spent only one hour a day to have at least one suicide risk factor (depression, thinking about suicide, making a suicide plan or attempting suicide). Overall, suicide risk factors rose significantly after two or more hours a day of time online.

Of course, it’s possible that instead of time online causing depression, depression causes more time online. But three other studies show that is unlikely (at least, when viewed through social media use).

Two followed people over time, with both studies finding that spending more time on social media led to unhappiness, while unhappiness did not lead to more social media use. A third randomly assigned participants to give up Facebook for a week versus continuing their usual use. Those who avoided Facebook reported feeling less depressed at the end of the week.

The argument that depression might cause people to spend more time online doesn’t also explain why depression increased so suddenly after 2012. Under that scenario, more teens became depressed for an unknown reason and then started buying smartphones, which doesn’t seem too logical.

What’s lost when we’re plugged in

Even if online time doesn’t directly harm mental health, it could still adversely affect it in indirect ways, especially if time online crowds out time for other activities.

For example, while conducting research for my book on iGen, I found that teens now spend much less time interacting with their friends in person. Interacting with people face to face is one of the deepest wellsprings of human happiness; without it, our moods start to suffer and depression often follows. Feeling socially isolated is also one of the major risk factors for suicide. We found that teens who spent more time than average online and less time than average with friends in person were the most likely to be depressed. Since 2012, that’s what has occurred en masse: Teens have spent less time on activities known to benefit mental health (in-person social interaction) and more time on activities that may harm it (time online).

Teens are also sleeping less, and teens who spend more time on their phones are more likely to not be getting enough sleep. Not sleeping enough is a major risk factor for depression, so if smartphones are causing less sleep, that alone could explain why depression and suicide increased so suddenly.

Depression and suicide have many causes: Genetic predisposition, family environments, bullying and trauma can all play a role. Some teens would experience mental health problems no matter what era they lived in.

But some vulnerable teens who would otherwise not have had mental health issues may have slipped into depression due to too much screen time, not enough face-to-face social interaction, inadequate sleep or a combination of all three.

It might be argued that it’s too soon to recommend less screen time, given that the research isn’t completely definitive. However, the downside to limiting screen time – say, to two hours a day or less – is minimal. In contrast, the downside to doing nothing – given the possible consequences of depression and suicide – seems, to me, quite high.

It’s not too early to think about limiting screen time; let’s hope it’s not too late.

Jean Twenge, Professor of Psychology, San Diego State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Some thoughts on cellphone etiquette

Etiquette Guidelines

  • Employ the Golden Rule: treat others as you want to be treated. Expect that less self-aware companions may not reciprocate.
  • Treat in-person interactions as sacrosanct.
  • Is something worth leaving the room for? You probably wouldn’t excuse yourself from a room just to peruse news updates, so save anything not requiring an immediate response for later.
  • That being said, excuse yourself when needed. If you get an urgent work call at dinner with friends, take it in another room or outside the restaurant to avoid holding up everyone else’s conversation.
  • In the office, mirror the behavior of an esteemed colleague if no cell phone policy has been created. However, keep your ringer off and your phone in your pocket during conversations and meetings.
  • Avoid talking on your phone in close quarters with strangers – elevators, planes, bathrooms, trains, etc., where other people will be forced to hear your every word.

Social Visits

When paying a social visit to someone in their home, regardless of whether you are the only guest or it’s a party, your cell phone should remain stashed away. Even if other people at the party are using their phones, you’ll stand out from the crowd for being polite and focusing your attention on the host and their other guests. For many parents, the concern is ‘what if the babysitter needs to reach me’? Most current smartphones offer the ability to program emergency numbers that will override do-not-disturb settings on the phone. Therefore, you can set your phone to Do Not Disturb, and the only interruption will be the emergency number you have programmed in.

In the event you wish to take a picture, make sure to ask the host first – it is their home, after all. Also, don’t forget to ask the people in the picture how you can use their image.

Dining Out

Silencing your phone in a restaurant is pretty standard. It’s not about the restaurant, but about respect for the other guests and the staff. Fortunately, most people seem to understand that it’s inappropriate to talk on the phone in a dining room, but somehow texting, browsing, and social networks aren’t always treated in the same way. We’ve all heard people bark at the server “what’s the wifi password” before they’ve even said hello. Going to a restaurant is an experience and expense, and once again your in-person conversations should take precedence. Keep all other phone activities to a reasonable minimum, but it is best that what you do has some relevance to the evening – taking a quick picture or looking up a conversation point, for example.

During Conversations

We’ve all been there. You’re walking down the hallway at work, through the frozen foods section at the grocery store or even just out for a walk with your dog when you run into somebody you know. The conversation is quick and to the point. As Jerry Seinfeld would say, it’s a ’stop and chat’. Then, your phone rings. Is it okay to answer?

The answer is no. Call the person back or wait the two minutes before checking your text or email. Right now, you’re in a conversation, and that conversation should be the priority. If you are expecting an important call, then politely excuse yourself by explaining that you need to take the call. While you may miss it, you can call them back in twenty seconds as opposed to a few minutes later.

Phone Calls in Public

There are many scenarios where we find ourselves in public, and it’s seemingly appropriate to use a cell phone. Examples include grocery shopping and having to call a loved one to confirm what brand of cereal they want or whether you’re out of milk at home. However, as always, you want to keep in mind the comfort of others around you.

Taking Pictures

Many people use the camera on their cellphone as their primary camera. For a significant number of people, taking pictures is a way to store memories of the places you’ve been, people you’ve met and experiences you’ve been part of.

When you’re in the privacy of your home without guests, do what you will with your camera. Take as many photographs of your kids, spouse, yourself and your pets as you want. How and where you share them is a whole other discussion.

However, when in public here are some things to consider:

1. Before snapping a picture, decide if the situation is appropriate. A day at the beach is appropriate. A photo in the locker room is not.

2. In public spaces, don’t block or crowd areas in which many people want to take pictures. Take a picture AND a moment to enjoy the subject, and move on so someone else can see the Mona Lisa.

3. If other people are in it, seek permission first, not forgiveness after. Many people don’t like having their picture taken and even more don’t like having it shared.

4. Leave the selfie stick at home. There’s a reason so many museums, galleries, and public spaces have banned them. They’re undignified. Ideally you should just leave them on the shelf at the store.

5. If there’s a sign that says “no cell phones” do not take pictures with your smartphone. No explanation necessary.

Some thoughts on leadership …

I refrain from defining leadership as a google search will provide plethora of answers; I will however reflect on qualities of leaders.

It seems than in a leadership hungry environment we struggle to appoint the people with the right skills or mindset. Leadership can be ‘automatic’ as a result of position held or acquired, by behavior and attitude. We seem to train leaders adhere to procedures and comply, unfortunately this focus on adherence to procedure distracts from the original objectives and becomes an objective itself. Hence the rise of error management.

Leadership requires the courage to do the right thing and the humility to to understand that despite our certainty, we could still be wrong.  Nothing is for certain until it had already happened, even that is debatable.

The attitude we adopt in the leadership  role we hold will very much depend on the view we adopt of ourselves – it actually affects the way we lead our lives.

Leaders are responsible. Responsibility and fault are often confused. I guess fault can be seen as the past and responsibility as the present. We cannot change the past, but being responsible, we can change what happens next.

Leadership is also associated with an element of success. If you are somebody when you are successful, what are you when you are unsuccessful?