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Mental Health SCAD

District Survey shows how phones affect students’ mental health


In today’s digital world, we use smartphones and social media as a means to cope with our stress and anxiety, but some argue that phone usage worsens it.

Popular opinions claim that phones are addictive and may be damaging college students’ mental health. Kendall McKinnon, a freshman writing major, wanted to do a personal experiment to test this claim. She believes in nurturing her headspace, a person’s state of mind or mindset, and wanted to see if cutting out social media would help.

“My headspace has been crowded by images and perceptions of other people’s lives, and it got to a point where I could never convince myself that I was enough. I’m taking this year to clear my mind and focus on the person I am, bettering myself from a place of love and not of hatred,” McKinnon said.

We surveyed students on the effects that social media affects their mental health and found that 81 percent strongly agreed or agreed that social media negatively affects mental health in young people. “If the focus of our minds is always operating out of depravity, it is close to impossible to be happy. We cannot recognize the abundance of our own lives if we are covetous of the perceived abundance of others. Anxiety and depression can thrive from that kind of tunnel vision,” McKinnon said. Studies have also shown that students phones can impair their ability to remember, a lack of creative thinking, and reduced attention spans. This research suggests that not only someone’s mental health can be affected by smartphones and internet usage, but it may also affect brain structure. “There are ways to use social media to better your mental health, and I greatly encourage people to seek out these paths. Make social media usage a mindful practice. Follow self-help authors and speakers. You can even talk to online therapists now,” McKinnon said.

The reason why we have become addicted to our phones in the first place is that we get a huge thrill from a reward called dopamine. Dopamine is a feel-good neurochemical messenger that carries signals across brain synapses and is responsible for motivation and reward-seeking behavior. Every time we receive something on our phones, like a text from a loved one or a “like” on Facebook, we receive a burst of dopamine. Smartphones and social media apps aren’t going anywhere soon, so it is up to us as users to decide how much time we want to dedicate to our devices.

Pew Research Center’s first survey of smartphone ownership was conducted in 2011 when just 35% of Americans owned smartphones, now 77% own smartphones. Another survey done in 2018 by Pew stated that fully 95% of teens have access to a smartphone, and 45% say they are online ‘almost constantly.’

“Even without social media, I still spend at least two hours on my phone a day. I think it has less to do with time itself than what you’re spending that time on. Two hours on social media is wasteful, but two hours Facetiming your parents back home is not,” McKinnon said.

As students, if we ever misplace our phones, we may experience a mild state of panic until it’s been found. According to research from Harvard University, about 73% of people claim to experience this unique flavor of anxiety, since most adults in the US spend an average of 2-4 hours per day tapping, typing, and swiping on their devices.

Given how distracting social media and apps can be, research suggests that college students would benefit from less time on their phones. There are many ways to help college students become less attached to their phones like reading a book, studying with flashcards and watching Netflix on a TV.

“I think we’re convinced that, because we can do everything from our phones, we should. But I think we all can agree that everything feels a bit lighter when you look up for a while,” McKinnon said.

Numerous studies show that phones and social media affect college students’ mental health.

“My growing experience with social media has molded my opinion into something much more nuanced and personal than just liking the platforms. No one’s experience with social media is perfectly positive or negative. Instead, some aspects are inspiring, while others are draining; some aspects are insightful, while others cause conflict; some aspects are entertaining, while others take too much mental energy,” McKinnon said.

By creating physical barriers, turning off every non-essential audio notification and creating a digital safe zone, students may be able to eliminate their digital footprints.