May is Mental Health Awareness Month. One of the most widespread things affecting mental health in our society today is the overuse of electronics, including video games and social media. Trond Harman, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at Keystone Pediatrics Chambersburg, often sees problems related to this in his child and teen patients. In today’s article, he shares some information about how electronics can affect mental health.
What are some of the ways electronic use is connected to mental health?
The use of electronics and mental health are connected in multiple ways with one another. The first, and probably most prevalent, is that electronics, video games, and social media tend to lead individuals to living a much more isolated life. Many times, people will spend hours at a time playing video games or being on some other form of electronic device, which leads to isolation from the outside world.
The argument that I normally hear about being too isolated while on electronics and social media is the fact that there is interaction with other people. This is done through things such as online gaming where you will play as a team and you can interact with these individuals through the use of microphones. The problem is that the players they are gaming with end up being more important to some people than even their own family. I have had numerous situations with teenagers where their parents will tell me that the child will drop everything to engage in playing a game with people that they have no connection to or even know on a personal level.
What problems can this cause?
Isolation leads to people struggling with normal social interactions. I have seen a lot of teenagers who have many issues with a basic reciprocal conversation because they have anxiety when speaking to someone face-to-face. This is an issue that I am seeing more and more of every day. It leads to anxiety levels increasing because of the fear they have of speaking to someone in person.
Another issue that goes along with engaging in these types of interactions is that many times the people with whom you are interacting online may be from another time zone. I have had numerous cases of teenagers playing video games until all hours of the morning and then not being able to wake up for school. The person they were playing video games with may have been in a time zone where it was daytime or an hour where they were not losing sleep or having it interfere in their lives. I have observed this leading to truancy issues with school because of the lack of sleep or the child’s anxiety with leaving the home.
Finally, when you over-engage in using electronics, it leads to a sedentary lifestyle. There are numerous problems that can be caused by this. One of them is that you are more prone to having weight issues, which can lead to low self-esteem and possible depression. Another problem with a sedentary lifestyle is the lack of exercise. There are numerous studies that correlate exercise to good mental health.
What mental health conditions can too much use cause?
The most prevalent mental health issues that are caused or can be contributed to electronics and social media use are depression and anxiety. People develop increased anxiety related to the struggling with basic interactions. They are alone in their home when they are engaging in many of these activities and their anxiety levels increase when they have to go out into the world. The more people are alone and isolated from others, the more likely they are to be depressed. A lot of people will tell you that they have many friends, but when you dig deeper into these friendships they are based on people they know online.
Can it become an addiction?
It can become an addiction and it is actually recognized as Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) in many other countries. It is not yet recognized in the United States and therefore getting treatment for the addiction can be tricky. The most likely way that people get treatment is through some other diagnosis recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is used by clinicians and insurance companies to classify mental health conditions. The problem is most likely listed under something such as anxiety, depression, or some other obsession related to internet usage such as gambling or pornography. While there are numerous programs around the country that specialize in treating this condition, the person would need to have a diagnosis from the manual for their treatment to be covered by insurance. Internet Gaming Disorder has been added to the manual’s appendix, and will likely make it into the manual itself in the near future.
It can be difficult to determine if and when treatment might be needed for internet addiction, but according to researchers from the University of Iowa’s College of Medicine, “Internet addiction is characterized by excessive or poorly controlled preoccupations, urges or behaviors regarding computer use and internet access that lead to impairment or distress.” Treatment options for internet addiction include inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities, counseling, therapy and support groups.
In the next article, I will give some advice about how much use is too much for both adults and children, and give some tips to parents for helping their kids and teens make healthy choices when it comes to electronics use.
This article contains general information only and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment or care by a qualified health care provider.