All of us at anxietycentre.com have experienced debilitating anxiety. But we’ve also overcome it and returned to normal and lasting health. Because we know the hardship anxiety unwellness can cause, we are committed to helping others, with over 27 years of service.” - Jim Folk, President, anxietycentre.com

Screen time might boost depression, suicide behaviors in teens

Screen time might boost depression, suicide behaviors in teens

A new study finds that teens, especially girls, who spend several hours per day on phones and tablets are more likely to be depressed and have suicide-related outcomes

Increased time spent in front of a screen -- in the form of computers, cell phones and tablets -- might have contributed to an uptick in symptoms of depression and suicide-related behaviors and thoughts in American young people, especially girls, according to a new study by San Diego State University professor of psychology Jean Twenge. The findings point to the need for parents to monitor how much time their children are spending in front of media screens.

"These increases in mental health issues among teens are very alarming," Twenge said. "Teens are telling us they are struggling, and we need to take that very seriously."

Twenge, along with SDSU graduate student Gabrielle Martin and colleagues Thomas Joiner and Megan Rogers at Florida State University, looked at questionnaire data from more than 500,000 U.S. teens found in two anonymous, nationally representative surveys that have been conducted since 1991. They also looked at data suicide statistics kept by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

They found that the suicide rate for girls aged 13-18 increased by 65 percent between 2010 and 2015, and the number of girls experiencing so-called suicide-related outcomes--feeling hopeless, thinking about suicide, planning for suicide or attempting suicide -- rose by 12 percent. The number of teen girls reporting symptoms of severe depression increased by 58 percent.

"When I first saw these sudden increases in mental health issues, I wasn't sure what was causing them," said Twenge, author of iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy -- And Completely Unprepared for Adulthood. "But these same surveys ask teens how they spend their leisure time, and between 2010 and 2015, teens increasingly spent more time with screens and less time on other activities. That was by far the largest change in their lives during this five-year period, and it's not a good formula for mental health."

The researchers returned to the data and looked to see if there was a statistical correlation between screen-time and depressive symptoms and suicide-related outcomes. They found that 48 percent of teens who spent five or more hours per day on electronic devices reported at least one suicide-related outcome, compared to only 28 percent of those who spent less than an hour a day on devices. Depressive symptoms were more common in teens who spent a lot of time on their devices, as well.

The findings fit with previous studies that have linked spending more time on social media to unhappiness.

On the positive side, the researchers found that spending time away from screen and engaging in in-person social interaction, sports and exercise, doing homework, attending religious services, etc., was linked to having fewer depressive symptoms and suicide-related outcomes. The researchers reported their findings today in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.

While economic struggles are generally thought to be linked to depression and suicide, the U.S. economy was improving between 2010 and 2015, so that is unlikely to be the primary driver of these increases, Twenge noted.

"Although we can't say for sure that the growing use of smartphones caused the increase in mental health issues, that was by far the biggest change in teens' lives between 2010 and 2015," she said.

The good news? You don't have to totally give up on electronic devices to lower your risk for depression and suicide-relayed outcomes. Twenge said that limiting screen-time to one or two hours per day would statistically fall into the safe zone for device usage.


Disclaimer: anxietycentre.com is not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted at anxietycentre.com by contributing institutions or for the use of any information throughout anxietycentre.com's system.


The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder coach, counselor, or therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.


For more information about our Anxiety Counseling option; our Available Anxiety Therapists; to Book An Appointment with one of our anxiety therapists; common Anxiety Signs and Symptoms; common Anxiety Attack Symptoms; the symptoms of panic attack disorder; anxiety Recovery Support area; information about Anxiety; and our Anxiety 101 section; or click on the appropriate link or graphic below:

Anxiety Counselling Book An Appointment Book An Appointment Anxiety Symptoms Anxiety Attack Symptoms Panic Attack Symptoms Anxiety Recovery Support Anxiety Anxiety 101

Return to our anxiety research page.

Authors: Jim Folk, Marilyn Folk, BScN. Last updated November 14, 2017.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and coaching/counseling/therapy for problematic anxiety and its sensations and symptoms, including the latest in anxiety research about how screen time might boost depression and suicide behaviors in teens.