Health & Wellness

More Teens Are Reporting Mental-Health Problems

The way teens use social media might be part of the problem



By Jennifer Hughes

Photo: iStock/AntonioGuillem.


If a teen in your family spends a lot of time glued to his or her phone and has dealt with mental health problems or incidents of self-harm, he or she isn’t alone. According to a recent study published by the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, mental illness and smartphone-use might be more connected than we thought.

The study, which was based on data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, examined 13- to 17-year-olds who visited emergency departments in Ontario between 2003 and 2017; researchers found that rates of mental health-related visits to emergency departments among teens have been increasing.

Rates of mental health visits rose by 78% from 2009 (13.5 per 1,000) to 2017 (24.1 per 1,000), while self-harm visits jumped from 1.8 per 1,000 in 2009 to 4.2 per 1,000 in 2017. Visits for depression and anxiety have also increased since 2009. Though there may be a lot of reasons for this, William Gardner, the study’s lead author, has suggested three probable reasons for the increase.

The iPhone launched in Canada in 2008, just a year before the increase began, and thus we saw a rise in smartphone and social media use across the country. Also, more campaigns were introduced at the time to reduce the stigma of mental illness, which might have prompted more teens to seek professional help. Lastly, 2008 was the year of the recession, which led to job losses and financial instability.

With the increase of smartphones, people are now socializing differently and teens, especially, are more vulnerable to the risks of constant exposure online, which include bullying and can cause anxiety. Because smartphones have shifted the way we socialize, this may be delaying emotional maturation among teens since they no longer have to rely on typical social cues such as reading another person’s eyes.

The study found that visit rates were higher among female teens. This may be due to self-esteem problems, as girls are more likely to feel pressured by “ideal” body types presented on Instagram and Facebook. Meanwhile, boys may be less likely to seek help.