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December 5, 2017

Excessive Smartphone Use Changes your Brain for the Worse

slider4-sm-newAround 2012, something started to go wrong in the lives of teens.

In the years from 2010 to 2015:

  • symptoms of depression surged by 33 % nation wide
  • teen suicide attempts increased by 23 %
  • the number of committed suicides of 13-to 18-year-olds jumped by 31 %.

An analysis published in Clinical Psychological Services concluded, that the “iGen” Generation, those born after 1995, is more likely to experience mental health issues than their millennial predecessors.  In exploring possible causes for this painful and troubling trend, the smartphone was identified as a leading cause:  In late 2012 smartphone ownership crossed the 50% threshold and by 2015, 75% of teens had access to a smartphone.

As a result, teens

  • teens spend much less time interacting with friends in person
  • teen smartphone use increased in tandem with increased depression
  • time spend online was linked to mental health issues across two different data sets
  • teens who spent 5 + hrs online were 71% more likely to have at least 1 suicide risk factor over teens who only spend 1 hr on line
  • overall suicide risk factors (depression, thinking  about suicide, making a suicide plan or attempting suicide) rose significantly after 2 + hours a day of time online.

By the way, researchers took great care to rule out that the effect they studied was caused by increased smartphone use and not that already depressed teens were using their smartphones more.

What we do know is:

  • Interacting with people face to face is one of the deepest wellsprings of human happiness
  • Feeling socially isolated is one of the major risk factors for suicide
  • Teens are also sleeping less with more time spend on their phones; sleep problems are always implicated in mental health problems
  • Teens most vulnerable to adverse smartphone use are those with genetic predispositions, adverse family environments, bullying and trauma experiences;  but teens with any of these risk factors are still adversely affected by excessive phone time.
  • Neuroimaging studies demonstrated smaller grey matter area in the anterior cingulate cortex, an area responsible for top-down attention control, indicating overuse of smartphone time can damage the ability to be attentive.
  • In addition to depression scores, teens who overuse smartphones were also more anxious, more impulsive and had more sleep problems.

The Good News are

  • Mindfulness training showed increased cognitive performance and neuroplastic changes in the anterior cingulate cortex toward health.
  • Cognitive behavior therapy was able to improve attention control, executive functioning abilities, and re-balance neurochemistry, especially the levels of GABA to glutamate-glutamine normalized.

What You can Do

  • Turn off your phone at certain times a day, such as meetings, during dinner, playing with your kids, and of course driving.
  • Remove social media apps, like Facebook and twitter from your phone.
  • Wean yourself to 15 minutes intervals at set times of the day when it won’t affect work or family life.
  • Don’t bring your phone and it’s harmful blue light to bed; use an old-fashioned alarm clock to wake you.
  • Last, and most important, try to replace your phone time with outdoor activities, meditation, yoga, and times with friends and family.



Summarized by Dr. Stehle from :

LaMotte, Susan: Smartphone addiction could be changing your brain. CNN 12.1.2017

Tenge, Jean: The number of teens who are depressed are soaring – and all signs point to smartphones.  The Conversation. 11.18.2017


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