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Are Screens Harming Mental Health?

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Electronic devices have become a staple of modern life. But that has not always been the case. Children used to play outside more frequently with other children; they formed personal connections through face-to-face interactions rather than virtual interactions via the Internet. Since the advent of computers and with that, videogames, life has changed.

Is it possible to imagine life without technology? Especially after considering the number of devices to choose from: laptops, smartphones, tablets, e-readers, gaming systems and smart watches. Technology has even seeped into education. Schools use smart boards in place of projectors and some have started administering online homework which students complete using computers checked out to them like textbooks.

With the public’s easy accessability to various devices more and more games have become available at a range of prices. The target audienc depends on the game, extending from games for children who are barely old enough to hold the device in their hands to games for youth and adults. The price of these games varies. Some games are even free which makes them accessible to anyone who has a smart device. The pull of phones and other screens are almost irresistible. But what is all this technology doing to our mental health?

Dr. Victoria Dunckley, a child psychiatrist, has attempted to address this issue in regard to children, though her findings can be applied to technology users of all ages. She asserts that any screen time, regardless of the content, can have a negative impact on mental health (Dunckley, 2012). When a child or youth engages in screen time it stimulates their nervous system and puts them in the “fight or flight” mode. This constant, yet, subtle stimulation can make the nervous system sensitive causing the player to react inappropriately to small events and can create symptoms of anxiety (Zamani et al, 2009). Dr. Dunckley has coined the term “Electronic Screen Syndrome” to describe the symptoms that she has seen in her practice (Dunckley 2012). The symptoms of Electronic Screen Syndrome can include disruptions in mood, anxiety, irritability, rapid changes in mood, emotions that are easily aroused, depression and low tolerance for frustration. These symptoms can occur alongside an already existing mental health disorder and exacerbate it or they can occur alone. Dr. Dunckley notes that symptoms are relieved by an electronic fast for three to four week (Dunckley 2012).

Researches in Iran also found that electronics and video games can lead to mental health problems and disorders (Zamani et al, 2009). They report that there is a direct relationship between computer game addiction and the physical and mental health of those who play regularly: “It seems that computer games have a negative relationship with mental health of adolescents and have a direct effect on their violent behavior, anxiety, depression and isolation of [the] adolescents who play these games” (Zamani et al 2009), said the team.

Though it may not be officially recognized yet as an addiction, many people show signs of addiction by spending many hours a day playing video games, often neglecting people around them or their own daily needs. The World Health Organization will be updating their International Classification of Diseases this year and with the update screen addiction will officially be added as a disorder. The updated version will include “Gaming Disorder” (Gaming Disorder, 2018). This new disorder is defined as “a pattern of gaming behavior…characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences” (Gaming Disorder, 2018).

The addition of this new disorder is evidence that overuse of electronic devices negatively impacts mental health. Some may argue that the use of electronic devices helps them to stay connected to people. That may be true to an extent. People can be more connected to others, but is it worth the cost of mental health or as beneficial as the connections that could be made with people in the same room?

Dr. Dunckley tells her patients to fast from screen time in order to improve mental health and behavior. Many others echo her words and say to put down the device and try to connect with the person sitting in the same room. Doing so can alleviate anxiety and depression.

References:

Dunckley, V. L. (2012). Electronic screen syndrome: An unrecognized disorder?. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mental-wealth/201207/electronic-screen-syndrome-unrecognized-disorder

Gaming disorder. (2018). Retrieved from http://www.who.int/features/qa/gaming-disorder/en/

Zamani, E., Chashmi, M., & Hedayati, N. (2009). Effect of Addiction to Computer

Games on Physical and Mental Health of Female and Male Students of

Guidance School in City of Isfahan. Addiction & Health1(2), 98–104.

 

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