There is a meme that keeps making the rounds consistently on social media that speaks loosely about Digital Addiction and Mental Health matters.
It goes, “That mini heart attack you get when you cannot find your phone!”
There are three problems with the above statement.
- The level of our dependency on the phone is so much that when we realize we may have misplaced it, it scares us enough to compare it to a severe medical condition.
- The fact that we are so nonchalant about the fact that a missing phone can be so frightening to us.
- The sad but working truth is that phones take precedence over many other significant things in life.
The problem with Cell Phone addiction is that it is not considered a pure addiction or treated on par with a compulsive habit. There are scores of people who exhibit anxiety, stress, and even aggressive behavior if they do not have their phones. Research has also shown that people who are separated from their phones present signs that are very similar to those who indulge in compulsive gambling.
Although, phone addiction does not necessarily fall in the category of addiction. Traditionally, the term addiction was attributed only to substance abuse. But with the growing travails of certain habits and the mental health repercussions attached to them, it is more than necessary to revise and review what falls under addiction and what does not.
How Phone Addiction manifests into Mental Health Issues?
To understand how using the phone slowly transitions into a habit and slowly inches to becoming an addiction, we need to break down why we use the phone.
Generally, people use their phones to call or browse the internet. These are the two primary uses every person has from their phone. Browsing the internet, however, is a pretty large umbrella. Social Media, listening to music, watching movies, texting, and any other allied services that use the internet for functioning come under this category.
Digital Addiction and Mental Health matters : The Dopamine Connection
Social media works on the promise of rewards and connections. The whole concept of getting likes on what you post and the ensuing interaction in the form of comments, shares, and messages only reinforce the rewards part of the medium. New connections are made daily based on shared interests and many other requisites.
The human brain works on a very simple reward system. It releases a chemical called dopamine whenever it feels rewarded or validated. Social media apps play on this principle and work accordingly. Users on the app post media for their viewers or followers to see and react to. Every follow, like or comment makes them want to come back, it motivates them to post more which in turn gets more reaction from the audience. Hence starts the vicious cycle of social media and digital addiction. The idea of rewards keeps the brain flooded with dopamine and makes it seem like it is worth the time to keep coming back to the screen.
Digital Addiction and Mental Health matters : A break from the mundane
Also, the screen is more stimulating than the mundane interiors of the house. To a kid, who is at home all day with no new activities or anything engaging, the screen provides a whole lot of variety and a break from monotony. Every channel has a different show on, there is a new scenario of play every time they log in to play a video game. Everyone posts something new on social media each time they check-in on the app. The viewing experience is different each time. For the human brain to take a break from order and explore something totally different is very enticing. The recall factor is low and with each time there is a new stimulation.
Leading to a bigger issue?
Teens and young adults are most prone to mental health issues connected to smartphone addiction. Excessive use of social media and putting their lives out there opens them to online bullying, conditioning and falling into the abuse trap. Excessive time spent on the video games manifests into behavioral issues with them, making them irritable with short attention spans. Digital Addiction may also result in low self-esteem issues, anxiety disorders and stress in kids.
Often, the telltale signs of mental health issues are ignored especially among kids and young adults. If such issues are not addressed within time, they often lead to bigger, more complex problems that may require years of working through.
Addiction, although not categorically addressed as a mental health problem, is a predecessor to many psychological disorders. It is, therefore, essential to address it as soon as possible. And it has to be addressed with compassion and care. We welcome you to help us overcome Digital Addiction. We are building a forum where we are actively striving to create a safe space to tackle digital addiction among kids. Read on here to know more!