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Mental Illness & Screen Time: How EMFs & Technology Addiction May be to Blame
Last Updated on March 17, 2023
A 2017 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that since 2008, the percentage of adults with a mental illness has increased among all population brackets under 50 years old, with the biggest jump in adults aged 18 to 25. The suicide rate for teen girls reached a 40-year high in 2015.
So what is affecting everyone, but especially young children? The answer might be right in front of your nose.
Since 2008, the use of mobile devices and mental illnesses have been following a very similar rising curve. But what exactly about these cell phones, tablets, and other electronics might be linked to this increase?
Research is showing social media, Internet addiction, and the negative health effects of EMF radiation coming from these devices might all be coming into play.
What is Mental Illness?
Mental illness refers to a diagnosable mental disorder. These are disorders that affect your mood, thinking, and behavior. People that suffer from mental illness may have problems functioning in daily life, such as while working or during social activities.
According to Mental Health America, there are more than 200 classified mental health illnesses. The most common of which are Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Dementia, Schizophrenia, and Anxiety disorders. Symptoms may include social withdrawal, and changes in mood, personality, and habits.
But what causes these mental disorders? Biological, psychological, and environmental factors may all be at fault, each in different ways.
Biologically, your brain is the most complex organ. With mental illnesses,the nerve cell circuits and pathways may be dysfunctioning. Other illnesses are connected to defects or injuries to the brain. Additional biological factors that may contribute to mental illnesses include genetics, infections, and prenatal damage.
Psychological factors include severe psychological trauma suffered as a child or adult. This can take the form of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, an important early loss (such as the death of a parent), neglect, and inability to relate to others.
Certain Environmental stressors can trigger a mental illness. These include death or divorce, a dysfunctional family life, feelings of inadequacy, or social expectations. Exposure to certain toxins like Electromagnetic Field radiation, or EMF radiation, and substance abuse can also be detrimental to your mental health.
Rise in Mental Illness
Every year, nearly 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experience some form of mental illness. Experts believe that half of all serious adult psychiatric conditions (Major Depressive Disorder, Anxiety disorders, Substance Abuse Disorder) may start as early as 14 years old.
Another alarming statistic is that the suicide rate is also on the rise, especially for young adults and adolescents. Between 2007 and 2015, this rate in females aged 15 to 19 years old has more than doubled, from 2.4 to 5.1 per 100,000 people. Among males, the rate increased 30%. The suicide rate for teen girls reached a 40-year high in 2015.
It is important to note that the SAMHSA report showed there wasn’t a coinciding increase among the older generations.
“More U.S. adolescents and young adults in the late 2010s, versus the mid-2000s, experienced serious psychological distress, major Depression or suicidal thoughts, and more attempted suicide,” said lead author Jean Twenge, PhD, author of the book iGen, and professor of psychology at San Diego State University. “These trends are weak or non-existent among adults 26 years and over, suggesting a generational shift in mood disorders instead of an overall increase across all ages.”
So, why is the youngest generation being afflicted by mental illness more so than other generations?
What’s to Blame?
Most experts have agreed that the Millennial generation started in the early 1980s and ended in 1996, and the Gen Z generation was born between 1997 and 2012.
Both of these generations are highly influenced by technology. Millennials grew up during the technological boom, with the World Wide Web and early cell phones coming out in the 90s. Millennials were in their formative, adolescent years right as these world-changing technologies were introduced. Because of this, technology is ingrained in their daily lives. Almost half of Millennials (39%) interact more with their smartphone than with their significant others, parents, friends, children, or co-workers.
Now, take that one step further and you get Gen Z. Gen Z’ers are digital natives—they don’t know what life is like without a smartphone. A 2018 study found that 95% of this generation has one, and more astoundingly, 25% had a smartphone before age 10. During their teenage years, Gen Z’ers are constantly connected to social media, checking in on Facebook, retweeting on Twitter, posting on Instagram, and quickly sending photo conversations through Snapchat.
For this generation, being connected 24/7 is their norm.
Unfortunately, at the same time, this group has experienced an increase in mental health disorders over the past decade. And many are tying it to the coinciding increase in digital technology.
Increased Screen Time
Just like other forms of technology, smartphones offer the user a plethora of benefits. However, there can be a very real dark side.
The iPhone was pivotal in changing Millennials’ and Gen Z’ attitudes and behaviors. Since 2007, teenagers are spending less time hanging out with their friends, are in less of a rush to get a driver’s license, are going out on fewer dates, are more likely to feel lonely, and are less likely to get enough sleep. Fifty-five percent of Gen Z spends five or more hours on their smartphones a day. Twelve percent of Gen Z use their smartphones for over half the day—up to fifteen hours PER DAY.
In 2012, over 50% of the Millennial generation had purchased a smartphone.
Also in 2012, psychological well-being took a sudden dip. Coincidence?
While we can probably think of many terrible things that happened in 2012 or the years leading up to it, a study published in Preventative Medicine Reports established a definitive link between screen time and lower psychological well-being among smartphone users.
Less face-to-face interaction means compromised social relationships, which is a major risk factor for developing Depression.
After just 1 hour of screen time a day, the researchers found smartphone users had less curiosity, lower self-control, more distractibility, more difficulty making friends, less emotional stability, were more difficult to care for, and showed an inability to finish tasks. Among high school students, there was a decrease in self-esteem, life satisfaction, and happiness.
Not only has smartphone usage prompted a decrease in psychological well-being, it has lead to a form of addiction. Although not recognized in the U.S.,Social Media Addiction is an official disorder in Australia, China, Japan, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. It develops when people are excessively engaged on their smartphones, craving the digital connection provided through social media.
Social media addiction has been linked to Depression, Insomnia, and social withdrawal. While it may not have the same physical effects as drug addiction, there is a potential for long term psychological damage.
This increased screen time, leading to a lack of physical connection and fostering of a “compare and despair” attitude and feelings of inadequacy, is being pinpointed as a cause for rising mental illness. Why this is particularly present in the younger generation may be because they have seen a far greater percentage of their lives devoted to this type of lifestyle, and they are more vulnerable to its effects.
However, there might be another reason for an increase in mental illness that is present no matter which app you use or which people you follow: Electromagnetic Field radiation, or EMF radiation.
Increased Exposure to EMFs
All smartphones and all other digital devices, which have exponentially increased since 2007, emit a low-energy form of radiation called EMF radiation.
Research has recently started linking EMF radiation to adverse biological effects in the body, such as a suppressed immune system, cell damage and mutation, activation of voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCCs), cellular stress response and DNA breakage, and interference with cell communication, which happens via electrical impulses.
These changes at the cellular level can influence and shift entire processes in the body, and directly interfere with hormone and neurotransmitter levels.
For example, exposure to EMFs activates VGCCs in your brain. These channels basically control the physiological functions of the cell through cellular signal transduction. VGCCs help the release of neurotransmitters in the brain and the release of hormones by neuroendocrine cells.
However, when VGCCs are overstimulated from an external source, such as when they are activated by EMFs, they disrupt the normal function of the cell. In fact, the increased calcium that enters the cells due to EMFs may be connected to Autism.
In one study, researchers looked at the effects of EMF exposure on neurotransmitters in newborn rats. The results showed that increased cell phone radiation caused coinciding increases in Histamine, Dopamine, Adrenaline, and Noradrenaline. There was also a significant decrease in Serotonin and Melatonin. What does this mean?
Dopamine, Serotonin, and Melatonin all play substantial roles in your brain.
Dopamine controls brain communication, and too much of it can lead to ADHD, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Addiction, and Schizophrenia.
Serotonin in the brain impacts mood levels, anxiety, and happiness, and low levels can cause poor memory, bad moods, sleep difficulties, low self-esteem, and aggression, with links to Depression.
Melatonin is the hormone that controls your body’s sleep cycle. Not only do lower levels of Melatonin affect your nightly sleep, but they also alter your Circadian Rhythm, which has been linked to the development of many chronic diseases and illnesses. Decreased Melatonin levels also have been observed in Dementia and mood disorders.
When the brain’s neurotransmitters and hormones are balanced and in-sync, you’ll be in a state of good mental health. However, a disruption can cause the brain to enter varying states of mental illness, regardless of whether your life circumstances are stable or not.
WATCH VIDEO : Learn About the Health Effects of EMFs
Kids at Risk from EMF Exposure
According to the CDC, the most common mental illnesses in children are ADHD, Anxiety, Depression, and behavior problems.
Children that have been diagnosed with either Depression or Anxiety increased from 5.4% in 2003 to 8.4% in 2012.
Children are more vulnerable than adults to any external stressor, whether it be life events or EMFs. This heightens their risk for developing a mental illness for many different reasons.
- They are already predisposed to having significant life events alter their brain chemistry more so than adults.
- Early life stress has been found to cause changes in the brain. One study looked at preschool-aged children, and found that exposure to chronic psycho social stress caused increased neural reactivity to daily experiences. Down the road, this may be associated with the development of psychopathy.
- A study in England followed boys from when they were born to around age 13, tracking the adversity they faced. They found that early occurrences of hardship was directly associated with chemical and structural changes in the brain,similar to the changes that occur when someone has Depression.
- They’re growing up in an environment where screens are ubiquitous—and aren’t going anywhere soon.
- Children are subjected to the harmful effects of screens at an essential growth period of their lives. While excess screen time is linked to mental illness across the board, digital devices being present during developmental stages of life can cause additional problems.
- They will be around digital technology for an overall greater percentage of their lives than adults today have been. In 2017, 95% of children under the age of 8 lived in a household with at least 1 mobile device. Those children are spending an average of 2.25 hours in front of screens per day.
- Though technology can be advantageous when it comes to engaged learning, too much of it may hinder a child’s development, from disturbed sleep and decrease in physical health, to low self esteem and slower development in social skills.
- Childrens’ bodies, because they are still growing and developing, are more susceptible to the harmful effects of EMFs and other environmental toxins.
- Research by France Telecom scientists showed that twice as much cell phone radiation penetrates a child’s thinner, softer skull than an adult’s. Since their heads are also smaller, radiation goes further into and can reach the most sensitive parts of the brain.
- Because children or unborn children are growing quickly, their cells are multiplying at a very fast rate. Since EMF radiation can damage cells, this growth can become compromised and lead to neurological and nervous system issues down the road.
WATCH VIDEO : Why Are Children More Vulnerable to EMF Radiation?
Mental Illness and Chronic Disease from EMF
Our bodies are intricate, complex systems in which everything is seemingly connected in one way or another. So, it’s not surprising that there is a link between mental illnesses and chronic diseases. People who have a chronic illness are at a higher risk of Depression and vice versa. At the moment, it’s still a “which came first: the chicken or the egg” situation—but regardless of what causes what, there is an established link between the two.
Some chronic illnesses actually alter the brain’s makeup, such as Parkinson’s disease, Epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, and Stroke. The consequent biological changes in the brain could lead to a mental illness. Even with chronic illnesses that don’t directly alter the brain’s chemistry, mental health can take a toll thanks to the lasting symptoms of pain and discomfort, as well as the modification of one’s daily lifestyle. Those with Cancer, Heart Disease, Diabetes, MS, HIV/AIDS, Lupus, and Rheumatoid Arthritis are all at a higher risk of developing Depression.
From a mental illness perspective, Depression is linked to an increased risk of Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes, Stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease. Research has found that a body suffering from Depression may function in different ways, including having increased inflammation, changes in the circulatory system, abnormalities in the stress hormone, and metabolic changes. When your body changes from its normal functions, it enters a state of dysfunction where it becomes mores susceptible to disease.
EMF Preventative Measures
While there isn’t a sure-fire way to prevent mental illnesses, since many of its associated risk factors lie far beyond our individual control, there are easy ways you can mitigate the harmful effects of technology in our hyper-connected world. As you now know, chronic exposure to EMF radiation can play a part in the development of mental illness so it’s important to take precautions when possible.
- Digital detox. Just like with drug addictions, detoxing is a necessary step in helping to overcome addiction. Powering through a set period of time with no technology will help you start down a path of decreased usage. Try doing this on your next vacation!
- Designate technology-free areas. By defining areas within your home that devices aren’t allowed in, it will help to create a healthier home environment. A tech-free bedroom can insure you get a good night’s sleep.
- Find non-tech hobbies you enjoy. Believe it or not, people found plenty of ways to keep themselves occupied before the smartphone was invented. Finding a hobby that doesn’t require technology is a great way to disconnect, and reconnect with people face-to-face.
- Disable notifications and/or wireless capabilities. Getting notified every time you get a text or a Snapchat only encourages you to pick up your device. By turning off notifications, and by turning your device on Airplane mode, you can decrease your screen time (and reduce your exposure to EMF radiation)
- Set time limits on devices. It is important to monitor how much time you spend on devices, as increased screen time exacerbates its effects. Try not to use devices 2 hours before bedtime. And on Apple devices, you can set time limits on certain apps.
- Use protection. When you are using mobile devices, make sure to have a protective case on to shield you from EMFs emitting from the device. Use an EMF Radiation Shield on your phone and tablet, and place one under your laptop for radiation protection!
- Limit screen time for your kids. Life can be hectic and overwhelming, and sometimes it’s just easiest to hand a child an iPad. But, knowing that children are more at risk for developing a mental illness thanks to technology, it is a good idea to stay mindful of their consumption of media. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following:
- For children < 18 months, only use screens to video chat. Prioritize unplugged time for infants and toddlers.
- For children 2-5 years old, limit screens to 1 hour a day of high quality programming. Think Sesame Street or PBS programming.
- For children > 6, set consistent time limits on screen usage, 2 hours or less at a time.
- The AAP also created a media planning tool so that families can use technology appropriately.
Many of these practices are simple to adopt and can potentially go a long way in improving your mental health. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, so take some steps to be healthier today!