Digital Media: Risk Factor with Psychosis in Teens

by Lucy
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In the age of digital connectivity, adolescents are immersed in a world where screens and social media platforms are an integral part of daily life. There has been a recent study that has found a link between psychotic experiences and young adult’s screen time.

While technology offers immense benefits and opportunities for learning and communication, emerging research has begun to shed light on its potential influence on mental health, specifically its association with psychosis among teens.

teenage girl looking worried while on laptop, psychosis in teens caused by digital media | Africa images via Canva.com
Photo credit: Africa images via Canva.com

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Defining Psychosis

Psychosis encompasses a range of mental health conditions characterized by a disconnection from reality.

Common Symptoms of Psychosis

Psychosis is characterized by unusual, occasionally unpleasant, and even frightening thoughts and feelings. They could start slowly so that only close friends and family notice you’re acting strangely, or they could come on suddenly without any knowledge of what triggered them.

Your child might show symptoms of one or more of the following:

Delusions

Delusions are strong, atypical beliefs that you may experience. For instance, they might believe that they have extraordinary abilities or that the TV is spying on them. To those around you, these beliefs will seem blatantly false, but not to your teenager.

Disordered Thinking

It could be very difficult for others to understand what they’re saying because of how disorganized or confused the ideas are. They could just start talking about experiences that have never happened before or refer to themselves as someone they aren’t.

Hallucinations

It is possible to perceive senses such as hearing, smell, or touch that no one else can. The most common example we often see of this is those who are hearing voices. A person experiencing hallucinations may find them frightening and extremely real. This is common in other conditions, such as bipolar disorder.

If your teenager is showing signs of psychosis, it is important to seek help from a professional and begin treatment right away. The chances of a full and happy recovery are higher the earlier it is brought attention to.

What can cause Psychosis?

Many believe there is no direct cause of psychosis, according to professionals. However, there are lots of reasons to believe why one’s experience might start:

  1. Environment: Sometimes a stressful event, such as the death of a close friend or relative, triggers a psychotic episode.
  2. Childbirth: Psychosis, also known as post-partum psychosis, can occur following childbirth.
  3. Drugs: It can be triggered or started as a result of using illegal drugs like LSD or ecstasy.
  4. Serious mental illness: psychosis can occur when someone has a serious mental illness like bipolar or depression.

A lot of parents might believe their child would never do x, y, and z, or you might never think this could happen to their child, but at that age, teenagers are very impressionable and can get themselves into silly situations without their parent’s knowledge.

If you educate and encourage conversations around these topics, you can give them the tools they need to stay safe, both physically and mentally.

Case Study

A recent McGill study of 425 Quebecers between the ages of 18 and 25 has found that young adults who have more frequent psychotic experiences also tend to spend more time using digital media.

On average, young adults in Canada spend several hours on their smartphones every day, whether that’s watching a new series on Netflix or being quick to jump on TikTok and scroll for hours on end. There has never, until recently, been any consideration of the potential effects this has on young people.

A growing body of research is looking into the potential dangers of digital media overuse, as well as the potential benefits of moderate digital media use, from a mental health standpoint. As digital media platforms are still relatively new and children are being introduced to them even younger than before, it’s crucial to understand if they are safe for your children.

This study also surveyed the participants over 6 months and found a correlation between increased time spent on digital media and the frequency of psychotic experiences, meaning more time didn’t equal more psychotic outbreaks, which is very interesting.

When it comes to what is classified as a psychotic experience, the researchers decided to only classify it as a range of unusual thoughts and perceptions, for example, the belief that they are in danger or seeing things that other people can not.

These experiences can be common in young adults and affect around 5%. McGill Psychiatry resident Vincent Paquin went on to share, “Our findings are reassuring because they do not show evidence that digital media can cause or exacerbate psychotic experiences in young people.”

“It is important to keep in mind that each person is different. In some situations, digital media may be highly beneficial for a person’s well-being, and in other cases, these technologies may cause unintended harm.”

What Now?

While this is good news for parents and young adults, the researchers are hoping to apply these findings and help with the tailoring of mental health services available for young adults.

By better understanding the triggers that come with psychotic experiences, parents and young people will know how to navigate through this. It also helps understand what types of content and activities matter. This will help mental health services personalize treatment plans, become more accessible, and be better aligned with what is needed in today’s age.

While you can never be 100% sure that something only your children’s phone can trigger and experience, it’s also safe to monitor what apps, videos, or websites they are on. This can make sure they are safe but also that their allegations are completely false or catch a potential internet scam.

Current Treatments for Psychosis

“Antipsychotic” medications play a significant role in the course of treatment. To stay well, you may need to take them for a long time. Any type of medication may have side effects, which the doctor you see will be able to inform you about and discuss possible solutions for.

While talking therapies can also be beneficial, they will almost certainly need to be used in conjunction with medication.

To manage psychosis associated with drug use or underlying medical conditions, you may require specialized assistance and treatment.

Final Thoughts

To sum up, increased digital media usage among adolescents has been associated with psychotic experiences, but causation isn’t confirmed. Research suggests a link between excessive screen time and more frequent psychotic episodes in young adults, emphasizing the need for tailored mental health services.

Parental guidance and monitoring content can help protect against potential risks like internet scams that are falsely classified as delusions or hallucinations. Treatment for psychosis involves medication and therapy, but personalized care is essential due to individual differences. Understanding digital media’s influence on mental health will refine services for youth in an evolving technological landscape.

Author

  • Lucy

    I am Lucy, 24, and I am from Manchester. I graduated a couple of years ago with a degree in creative writing. When I'm not reading romance novels, I am usually watching true crime documentaries and listening to podcasts.

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