TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (NEWS CENTER) -- A new study suggests a link between the amount of time that teenagers spend on their cellphones and their likelihood of feeling depressed or thinking about or attempting suicide.
Researchers from Florida State University and San Diego State University examined results from two surveys of adolescents that date back to 1991, looking into the attitudes and behaviors of more than 500,000 teens across three generations.
The researchers found that simply owning a mobile phone or device was directly linked to a rise in depression and related mental health issues among teens.
Nearly half (48 percent) of teens who spent at least five hours a day on an electronic device had either thought about or attempted suicide. Yet that figure was far lower (28 percent) among teens who only spent an hour a day glued to a screen.
The authors note that screen time itself was not proven to be the actual cause of depression or suicidal thoughts. They still urge parents to consider setting limits screen time, encouraging no more than two hours a day.
Dr. Shelley Cohen Konrad, the director of the School of Social Work at the University of New England, said these findings are not surprising.
She has worked with teens for nearly 30 years as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and said the findings remind her of the studies years ago correlating teen behavior and the amount of time spent watching TV.
"We're seeing more and more kids who are feeling socially isolated," said Dr. Cohen Konrad. "There's a huge sea change in terms of what's happening socially, what's happening in terms of attachment and how families function together."
She said part of that change is the emergence of social media and availability of it on smartphones, which more and more parents are giving their kids.
"I think it gives kids total access -- unless their parents are diligent -- to a wide array of things that they are really not developmentally ready for. I think it creates a competitive nature and a materialistic nature -- like what is important in life becomes what you have and not what you do," said Dr. Cohen Konrad.
Matt Graham lost his 13-year-old daughter Anie to suicide in late May. He said after her death, he and his wife looked at his daughter's phone, and found bullying on her social media accounts and text messages.
"I was confused that whole day. I spent several months following confused. How did it get to there? You get past the sadness. You get past the hurt, and you get past the grief that I know I'm going to live with forever. I still live with a lot of confusion," said Dr. Graham, who holds a Ph. D. "Hindsight is a terrible friend, but a great educator and I would just say I should have listened to my intuition more."
Graham said he is trying to spur legislation that gets schools and counselors to treat suicidal threats more seriously. He said many treatment providers Anie met with did not have training in certain therapies that could have possibly helped her. He stressed the importance of knowing the medical provider's background.
"I really should have listened to my intuiton more. I should have listened to my gut. I should have said, 'no this is serious,' when everyone else told me it wasn't," said Graham.
Dr. Cohen Konrad said there could also be confounding factors, including kids having underlying mental health issues.
According to the CDC, suicide rates have skyrocketed 31 percent among teens from 2010 to 2015, particularly among girls, who saw a 65 percent increase in suicides and 58 percent rise in depression rates.
The Maine CDC reports that suicide is the second leading cause of death for Mainers ages 15-34. More than 200 people committed suicide each year between 2010 and 2015. Of those years, about 10 percent of those suicides were people between the ages of 10 and 24.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends zero hours of screen time for kids under the age of 18 months, and encourages parents discretion with kids ages six and older.
Read the full study here: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2167702617723376
Maine has a specific section of its website dedicated to resources for helping teens.
If you or someone you know needs help, call the Maine Crisis Hotline at: 1-888-568-1112