Too Much Screen Time Could be a Risk Factor for Depression and Suicide

 In Naturopathic News

Node Smith, ND

Too Much Screen Time Turns Sour

A new research study suggests that adolescents who spend more time on smartphones and other digital devices may be more likely to experience depression and suicidal ideation.1 Attempted suicide attempts also seem to be correlated with increases in screen time. The study, published in Clinical Psychological Science, states that “screen time should be considered a modern-day risk factor for depression and suicide.”

Teenage girls’ suicide rate increased by 65 percent, and depression increased by 58 percent

This correlation has been noted in light of an increase in depression and suicide rates in teens between the ages of 13 and 18 of 33 and 31 percent, respectively, from 2010 to 2015. This statistic is from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This dramatic rise in depression and suicide rates is primarily driven by teenage girls. Teenage girls’ suicide rate increased by 65 percent, and depression increased by 58 percent.

These increases in mental health concerns in teens since 2010 matches an increase in ownership of cell phones. In 2012, about half the overall population owned cell phones, however by 2015, over 90 percent of teens had one – leading to a big increase in screen time.

Teens Spending More than 5 Hours/Day on a Digital Device Reported Suicide Ideation or Attempt

Almost half of teens who spent five hours or more on a digital device per day reported suicide ideation or attempt. For teens who spent an hour or less per day in front of a screen, the percentage was about 28 percent. Teens are at higher risk for depression and suicide as an overall population, as their hormones are changing, and emotional fluctuations can be incredibly intense, and difficult to process; support networks may be lacking or underdeveloped, and family dynamics may contribute more to emotional stability and mental health than in other populations. However, this 30 percent difference is significant.

More Time on Devices Leads to More Unhappiness

The authors of the paper conclude that teens who spend more time on devices are more likely to be unhappy, and those who participated in more non-screen activities are more likely to be happy.

Boundaries are Best

The idea of taking away electronic devices from children is unrealistic, say the authors of the study. But putting parameters on screen time may be a good idea; an hour or two per day seems to put a child into a statistically safer zone. Kids are not going to stop using screens, but perhaps they can be supported to use them with a little more moderation.


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Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Portland, OR and associate editor for NDNR. He has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine among the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend camp-out where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Four years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.

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