Smartphone use linked to decline in mental wellbeing for young adults

Smartphones have made a significant change to the way we live our lives, giving us access to information on the go and keeping us in touch wherever we are.

But the benefits they offer are only part of the story. An alarming new study from non-profit research organization Sapien Labs suggests that a decline in the mental health of younger generations has occurred alongside smartphone use and an increase in social isolation.

Data shows that people now spend seven-10 hours online daily. Dr. Tara Thiagarajan, chief scientist at Sapien Labs says, “This leaves little time for in-person social engagement. Prior to the Internet, by the time someone turned 18, we estimate that they would likely have spent anywhere from 15,000 to 25,000 hours interacting with peers and family in person.”

But the internet age has likely cut that range down to between 1,500 and 5,000 hours. Dr. Thiagarajan says that social interaction teaches people how to read facial expressions, body language, physical touch, appropriate emotional responses, and conflict resolution, life skills that are crucial for socio-emotional development. Without these skills she says people can feel detached from society and possibly harbor suicidal thoughts.

The report shows this decline is consistent across 34 countries where data was acquired, and that over the pandemic, the mental wellbeing of each younger age group of adults fell much more dramatically.

Symptoms that impact the majority of young adults aged 18-24 or are significantly amplified or deteriorated compared to older adults include: obsessive, strange or unwanted thoughts; issues of self-image, self-worth and confidence; feelings of being detached from reality; relationships with others; suicidal thoughts; fear and anxiety; and feelings of sadness, distress or hopelessness.

These symptoms point to a decline in what the report calls ‘Social Self’ which is a measure of how we view ourselves and how we form relationships. “This highlights the magnitude and nature of the challenges of social isolation and digital interaction at the expense of in-person social interaction,” says Thiagarajan.

The full report is available to download from the Sapien Labs site.

Image credit: mjth/depositphotos.com

Author: Martha Meyer