When it comes to education, learning is key. However, schools need to consider the relationship between digital technology and mental health. Reports of depression and anxiety amongst young people are rising, and suicides are up significantly from the mid-2000s. These trends are the basis of scientific controversy, with the hypothesis getting the most traction suggesting that digital media should take most of the blame when it comes to worsening mental health.
The Mental Health of Young Adults
We are beginning to understand the influence of wellness on student outcomes, and know that individuals who have a positive outlook and who are emotionally supported in School perform better academically. However, if digital technology and mental health have a negative link with each other – how can schools help build better wellbeing in a digital age?
Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University had this to say: "At first when I saw these trends in loneliness and unhappiness and depression starting to spike around 2011 or 2012, I really had no idea what could possibly be causing that. It was a real mystery". The trend lined up with a period when young people were reporting spending more time on their smartphones. Twenge suggests that the use of digital technologies has increased rates of depression. "…it adds up to a lot of evidence pointing toward technology possibly playing a role in this increase in mental health issues." She says.
This trend typically lines up with social media comparisons. It is also more prevalent in teenagers, who are far more vulnerable to shifts in mental wellbeing and peer pressure than adults. They have not had the time to make social connections, and are far more exposed to the social impact of technology.
The role of the School
When it comes to digital technology and mental health, many are asking what the role of schools is. Parents are definitely concerned, and detox programs to treat tech addiction are becoming more common. However, some believe that technology does not have much of an impact on the emotional wellbeing of young people. Instead, some researchers think the increase in negative mental health trends can be explained by political upheaval, economic anxiety, and global crises. Mental health issues are also far more accepted, leading to an increase in reports of depression and anxiety in general. Just because the impact of digital technology may be small – that does not mean it is insignificant.
This still leaves the question – what can schools do about digital technology and mental health?
The answer is simple; they utilise digital technology to enforce better learning experiences that are relevant for a digital age. This means helping shape students to become responsible digital citizens, and leaning into student-driven learning that understands the link between mental wellbeing and student success.
Schools cannot control what devices students use while away from campus, but they can teach their classes about how to use technology to pursue meaningful learning experiences, communicate effectively, collaborate creatively, and develop into the leaders of 2030.