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More than nine percent of Americans are living with diagnosable depression according to our nation’s most recent statistics. Young adults (aged 18-24 years) are the most likely among us to report unspecified depression. Anxiety disorders often accompany depressive disorders and affect close to 20 percent of Americans. Why so many young Americans are struggling with these conditions and what can be done about it is an important question to address. A new study has uncovered an interesting connection between use of several media devices at one time and the presence of depression and anxiety in young people.

Use of media by young people in this country has shot up by 20 percent over the past ten years. That means that more kids are spending more time in front of cellphones, computers, iPods, iPads, televisions and video games than ever before. The number of kids who are using more than one of these devices at a time (known as multi-tasking) has exploded by 120 percent during that same time frame. Concern over what drives multi-media use and/or how media multi-tasking may impact mental health was behind a recent study conducted through Michigan State University.

Although a definitive causal relationship was not established between media multi-tasking and mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, a clear association did surface. The research team questioned over 300 individuals regarding mental health and personal use of media. Participants in the study reported on the amount of time they spent using media each week particularly using at least two forms of media at the same time.

Though not rising to the level of clinical diagnosis, the assessment measurements used by the researchers are well accepted. Their findings showed a clear link between media multi-tasking and the presence of anxiety and/or depression. It could be that using the smartphone to surf the Internet and text while watching TV actually produces depression in young people. On the other hand, it may be that young people who are anxious and depressed tend to use media in order to cope with these conditions. More research is needed to answer those questions.

So whether kids with social anxiety are more prone to play video games, text and listen to music all at once as a way to distract themselves from life’s problems, or whether doing so leads them into social anxiety remains to be seen. With more devices taking more of young people’s hours and days, the truth behind the connection is worth discovering. In any case, there are mental health dangers associated with constant use of multiple devices.

The full study report appears in a recent edition of Cybepsychology, Behavior and Social Networking. The University of Michigan scientists responsible for the study believe that the research could be a springboard for creating appropriate interventions in order to mitigate the damage of media multi-tasking.


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