Digital mental health was a popular topic at this year’s American Psychiatric Association (APA) Annual Meeting. Over a dozen sessions focused on new technologies ranging from smartphone apps to voice analytics, virtual reality to social media. While it was impossible to attend every session, we asked the presenters from one session to share some in-depth comments and thoughts with the readers of Psychiatric Times. Their session was entitled “Revitalizing Psychiatry Through Engaging with Innovation to Increase Access and Inclusion with Care.”
In the first article of this two-part series, the presenters discuss social media use for youth, and app privacy and efficacy claims that clinicians and patients must evaluate daily. Topics that will be covered in Part 2 are voice analytics for detecting and monitoring mood, and smartphone and web-based passive data as a digital biomarker for mental health disorders.
Dr Bridianne O’Dea addresses “Does Social Media Impact Mental Health in Youth?”
Social media has become ubiquitous among young people, with up to 85% of those aged 12 to 17 years using one or more platforms.1 YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook are the most popular social media platforms among Western teens. As young people have quickly adapted to sharing their life online, parents have become increasingly concerned about problematic use. Teens who report that social media has a positive impact on their lives favor its ability to connect and stay in contact with others, to provide entertainment, and to increase the ease of finding news and information. However, many teens admit to concerns about bullying, relationship damage, unrealistic nature of online sharing, and time wasting. These concerns are echoed by parents who report being more concerned about their child’s technology use than drugs and alcohol.2
While many studies have examined the associations between mental health outcomes and social media use, followed by systematic reviews and meta-analyses, results remain inconclusive. Most studies are cross-sectional, with only small effect sizes found. Despite an unclear causal link between social media and poor mental health, clinicians and parents have found themselves needing to address problematic use among youth. While there are no clear diagnostic frameworks, clinicians are encouraged to examine the domains of excessive use, withdrawal symptoms, tolerance, and negative repercussions. Identifying any underlying mental illness is key. A range of self-report measures have been developed to assist in the measurement of problematic Internet and technology use.
Although no gold-standard treatments exist, cognitive-behavioral therapy adapted for Internet use has shown some promise among adults.3 Ultimately, clinicians and parents are encouraged to implement strategies that include behaviour modification (ie, non-screen time), cognitive restructuring (ie, challenging negative thoughts associated with use), and harm reduction to address co-morbidities. Parents are encouraged to promote self-regulation and autonomy, model the behaviors they wish to see in their children, and create regular time for open and honest discussions about online activities with their children. Learn more at: https://research.unsw.edu.au/people/dr-bridianne-odea
1. Jiang J. Millennials stand out for their technology use, but older generations also embrace digital life. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/05/02/millennials-stand-out-for-their-technology-use-but-older-generations-also-embrace-digital-life/ May 2, 2018. Accessed May 28, 2019.
2. ReachOut Parents. ReachOut.com. https://parents.au.reachout.com/ Accessed May 28, 2019.
3. Young KS. Treatment outcomes using CBT-IA with Internet-addicted patients. J Behav Addict. 2013;2:209-215. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4154573/ Accessed May 28, 2019.
4. Huckvale K, Torous J, Larsen ME. Assessment of the data sharing and privacy practices of smartphone apps for depression and smoking cessation. JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2:e192542. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2730782 Accessed May 28, 2019.
5. Larsen ME, Huckvale K, Nicholas J, et al. Using science to sell apps: evaluation of mental health app store quality claims. Npj Digital Medicine. 2019;2:18. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41746-019-0093-1 Accessed May 28, 2019.