Study: phone overuse harms mental health

Cole Archer, Contributing Writer

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For many undergraduates, college is 18 years of angst and hyper-controlled helicopter parenting coming to a quick end. Independence, a fresh start and a shot at career goals make it a desirable four-year journey for several students.

However, some of the same factors that make a collegiate experience so valuable, such as participating in social events, are causing negative effects on the mental health of many students. According to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health, around one in five college students are affected by anxiety or depression.

Depression at a young age is trending upward, as college students will experience higher rates of depression because of hormonal changes and brain development, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI).

In addition, the NCBI documents social media as having a negative impact on United States mental health. The overuse of phones in the modern social landscape has even shown direct correlations to depression and anxiety. The NCBI found that mobile phone addiction in college students is leading to sleep disturbance, anxiety, depression and stress.

Consequences of high quantitative mobile phone exposure included mental overload, disturbed sleep, the feeling of never being free, role conflicts and feelings of guilt due to inability to return all calls and messages,” according to the NCBI study.

Michaela Redmond, a sophomore majoring in news media, said using her phone often limits her sleep and affects her mental health.

“Most nights, I will be tired and want to go to sleep, and then I see my phone and start scrolling through social media,” Redmond said. “I get lost for hours on my different apps after such long days, and then I realize I can only get five hours of sleep maximum.”

Matt Heatherly, a Tuscaloosa-area therapist who has been practicing for ten years, said social media’s negative impact on mental health is too obvious to even mention around clients most of the time.

“Social anxiety has increased, and I see it as a more prevalent issue in the college demographic than any other,” Heatherly said. “This is the absolute worst direct result of an overuse of social media. Kids feel uncomfortable when they are unable to express their social media persona in the real world.”

However, social depression and anxiety do not come exclusively from social media. As a problem that has existed for as long as universities have, college students tend to have high expectations for their social life as a whole.

Dane Burgos, a senior majoring in psychology, said he believes false expectations are often the cause of depression.

“In my opinion, the concept that perpetuates college as a universally fun time is warranted, but detrimental to young adulthood,” Burgos said. “We are here to learn first and foremost, and the constant evolution of my career goals has led me to prioritize my values much more efficiently.”

Whether someone has a healthy social life or not, Burgos said through the University’s psychology classes, he actually found that society prioritizes friendship less over time.

“When someone’s individualism reaches an unhealthy share in their list of personal priorities, their friendships serve more so as a means to fill a void than to form a genuine bond, which can further spiral one’s social depression and anxiety,” Burgos said.

Input scientific studies and many different social factors, and the output is that many students are beginning therapy for social depression and anxiety at a young age, Heatherly said.

“I am experiencing a wonderful phenomenon,” Heatherly said. I have so many young people come in for depression and anxiety that are ready to take the reins of their life at 20 years old. I have not noticed an issue at all lately in the number of young adults in therapy, even with it being categorized as a luxury for many.”