From 2005 to 2017, a survey for those ages 12-17 showed a 52% increase in reports of symptoms of major depression, and from 2008 to 2017, young adults showed a 71% increase in experiencing significant psychological distress within the previous 30 days of the survey. In 2005, 68% of Americans were using the Internet compared to 90% in 2019, and studies show that Internet use leads to an increase of poor mental health issues. This dramatic increase in Internet use alongside youth reporting of depressive symptoms not only points to a harsh decline in mental health, but begs the question, does the Internet impact the mental health of its users? Depression and many other mental health afflictions are due to a multitude of factors, and correlation is not necessarily causation. Many studies conclude that a larger amount of research is needed, however, a commonality between the studies presented is that a very strong correlation was found.
A study by Filler shows, that Internet use directly negatively affects social relationships which leads to depression, loneliness, and overall negative effects on the development of youth. Communication brought through the Internet is shallow and is not adequate enough to emulate real social interactions thus leading to even deeper issues with its users in society. Depression symptoms showed an increase from those who used the Internet, and the users’ perception of their life declines and leads to an increase in depressive signs. Those who are predisposed to mental health issues showed an increase in the symptoms of such issues with an increase in Internet use over time. A possible reason for a decline in mental health is that those with preexisting issues seek out the Internet to cope, and end up getting sucked in, thus worsening their mental health issues into a dependent relationship with the Internet. In addition to depressive symptoms, websites like Facebook lead to a false perception of reality from its users and result in lowered self-esteem, leading to a promotion of compensating narcissistic qualities. Dependence on Facebook and similar sites may be related to poor quality of sleep and can be easily linked to addictive behaviors through the programs created by the companies to increase user attention. The study states “Internet use that was perceived to increase life meaning or improve school grades or work performance was associated with better mental health, but the effects were smaller than for the negative consequences”.
Nicholas Carr’s book about how the Internet physically changes our brains through Internet use shows how humans are adapting to the influence of social media and that we are in essence losing a part of our humanity along with it. Carr states: “It comes as no surprise that neuroplasticity has been linked to mental afflictions ranging from depression to obsessive-compulsive disorder to tinnitus. The more a sufferer concentrates on his symptoms, the deeper those symptoms are etched into his neural circuits. In the worst cases, the mind essentially trains itself to be sick”. Our constant overuse of social media leads to lower self-esteem and a general withdrawal from society, and our minds are being constantly trained to perceive this as normal. The aspect of what makes us human is how we adapt to different situations around us, and Carr shows us just how much we train ourselves to accept these negative behaviors as normal life. His studies show how reader retention and focus have been reduced, warning readers that there is no longer a balance. The Internet changing our brains continues to downplay empathy, deep thinking, and many other aspects of our lives. Our ability to focus on one task for extended periods of time has decreased and in that, our ability to think deeply and have meaningful introspection to combat worsened mental health.
The Internet is not always good, and with our society continuing to increase in Internet users, few know of the substantial impact it can have on its user’s life. The link between Internet use and a decline in many social human functions has been found by many studies and can amplify the effects of mental health conditions. Some may speculate that our mental health is related to the current state of society, our education system, the lack of jobs, social pressure, or simply that with an increased population, more mental health issues exist. All of these points are valid and should be investigated, but there are 275 million users of the Internet across the U.S. in 2018 and counting. The Internet has become crucial in everything from education to social conduct and the possibilities of it are endless. Our society runs on the Internet. Over 2.41 billion people are currently using Facebook across the world, and that number continues to rise each day. Social media sites that cause a decline in self-esteem and narcissistic behaviors are becoming core to social interaction throughout the world.