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Understanding the Impact the Internet/Screen Use has on Mental Health

Posted: January 18, 2018 - Tele-therapy is now available

Use of the Internet and screen exposure has grown exponentially over the past two decades. From global connection to a time consuming experience, modern technology has shifted how Western culture engages in Internet use. Mental health symptomology has been a highly researched field; however, the impact that Internet use has on mental health symptoms has been a relatively new phenomenon. This blog will explore an overview on a very brief introduction of what current literature subjects.

One study found that the Internet use has positive effects on mental health, such as an increase in the number of interpersonal relationships; this increase in relationships was associated with increased social support, improvement in self-confidence and self-esteem, and alleviation of loneliness and depression (Chen et al., 2011). But other studies have shown a positive correlation between level of Internet use and such mental health concerns as depression, anxiety, and addiction (Belanger et al., 2011; Cassidy-Bushrow et al., 2015; Kelleci & Inal, 2010; Lim et al., 2014). Correlations have also been found between high Internet usage and poor academic achievement, poor social bonds, and financial distress (Young, 1996); risky behaviors (e.g., interactions with online predators, exposure to age-inappropriate material such as pornography, drug use, and gambling; (Bremer & Rauch, 1998; Peltzer, Pengpid, & Apidechkul, 2014); weight concerns (i.e., underweight, overweight, or obese); and increase in symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (Peltzer, Pengpid, & Apidechkul, 2014).

Across different studies, participants often associate a sense of loneliness with high Internet use. One definition of loneliness was offered by Rook (1984):
An enduring condition of emotional distress that arises when a person feels estranged from, misunderstood, or rejected by others and or lacks appropriate social partners for desired activities, particularly activities that provide a sense of social integration and opportunities for emotional intimacy. (p. 1391)

Several studies have found that the more time a person spends on the Internet the lonelier he or she reported feeling (Brandtzaeg, 2012; Kraut et al., 1998; Nie, 1998). When one experiences loneliness, a multidimensional concept, difficulty within many areas of the individual’s life may arise. Use of the Internet may impact individuals’ interpersonal or intrapersonal relationships, their connection to their social networks as well as to their social support, and their self-esteem. Loneliness has been found to correlate with levels of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts (Berman & Schwartz, 1990; Pawlak, 2002).
Individuals who use the Internet within a “normal range” participate daily in significant Internet activities but do not develop a dependence on it. Furthermore, these individuals can maintain normal levels of functioning when the Internet is not available (Cardak, 2013; Davis, 2000; DiNicola, 2004; Kesici & Sahin, 2009; Young 1998). Those who struggle to reduce their time spent thinking about or engaging in Internet-based activities have been shown to possess personality traits of shyness, mental health symptoms of depression, and lower self-esteem (Aydin & Sari, 2011; Cardak, 2013).

Understanding the above data indicates that we need to become intentional when engaging on the web and monitoring time spent on line. Internet addiction was not included in DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Health Disorders, 5th edition) in spite of some psychiatrists identifying addictive qualities of internet use such as excessive use, withdrawal, tolerance and negative consequences. We all long for connection and internet can provide it but it will not replace face-to-face genuine interaction.
Author: Meghan Chapman, MA

Meghan is a fifth-year doctoral student who is completing her doctorate training in Clinical Psychology and is expected to graduate in the summer of 2019. Meghan has trained at several child and adolescences sites with a clinical focus on Attachment theory, family relations, cultural concerns, substance use, trauma, and loss. Meghan has presented her research at a few past conferences and will be presenting her current research on Internet Use, Self-Care, and Burnout at the Midwest Psychological Association in April 2018. Meghan completed her undergraduate coursework at Tulane University with a double major in Psychology and Communication. Lastly, Meghan received her Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology in 2016.

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