June 18, 2024
Mental Health Issue

Young People with Mental Health Conditions and Their Digital Habits

A recent study conducted by the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London, in collaboration with YoungMinds, a leading UK children’s mental health charity, has shed new light on the relationship between problematic digital technology use, disturbed sleep, and self-harm among young people with mental health issues.

Published in PLOS ONE, this pioneering research represents the first prospective study of its kind, offering valuable insights into the Mental Health Issue impact of digital technology usage in the youth population.

The study involved 365 participants aged between 13 and 25 years old, who were currently or had recently accessed secondary mental health services from the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. Utilizing an innovative co-produced design with young people who have firsthand experience of mental health challenges, researchers gathered data from electronic health records, smartphones, and social media accounts to create a detailed behavioral profile for each participant.

Over the span of six months, participants shared data on their social media and smartphone usage patterns to help researchers establish potential associations between these behaviors and self-harm and mental health conditions.

The findings were striking: Over 80% of the participants reported engaging in self-harm at least once, and high levels of depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances were prevalent. Furthermore, 54% of the participants admitted to using social media after midnight on weekdays, while 59% reported using their smartphones for late-night activities on weekdays.

Previous research has sparked intense debate regarding the connection between social media and smartphone use and self-harm rates. However, most studies to date have been limited by their design and have only been able to demonstrate associations rather than providing a clear understanding of the underlying mechanisms or the relative timings of different behaviors.

Dr. Rina Dutta, a reader in suicidology and psychiatry at King’s IoPPN and the study’s senior author, emphasizes the importance of this comprehensive approach: “Our groundbreaking methodology will enable us to delve deeper into the impact of digital technology on youth mental health, providing much-needed insights into the underlying mechanisms and the relative timings of different behaviors.”

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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