Has the internet led to an increase in mental disorders?

In a new comment in Child and adolescent mental health, Pim Cuijpers from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam explains that although many new mental health diagnoses are associated with the internet, we cannot know how the internet affects the overall prevalence of mental disorders.

“It is virtually impossible to examine whether the total prevalence of all mental disorders has remained stable over time. The DSM-IV and DSM-5 include over 100 mental disorders, and there is no way to examine the prevalence of all of these disorders together in the general population, ”he writes.

Cuijpers argues that according to the vulnerability-stress model of mental health, many people who have developed a mental disorder directly related to the Internet (such as Internet addiction) would likely have developed other conditions without the advent of the Internet. According to this model, as societal stressors come and go, the overall prevalence of mental disorders tends to remain stable.

Many authors have written about the impact of technology on our mental health. The time we spend looking at screens is increasing and probably causing stress in young adults. Technology also has detrimental effects on the general well-being of young people by changing sleep patterns, allowing cyberbullying, encouraging sedentary behaviors, leading to lower social skills, etc. Research has also shown screen time to be linked to depressive symptoms and teen suicide risk. . We also observed strong correlations between internet addiction, depression and stress.

Research on the effects of social media on mental well-being, in line with current work, is widely debated. Although small samples have linked social media use to depressive symptoms, the research is ultimately inconclusive. The effect of social media on our mental health may be more whether we use it to make meaningful social connections or meaningless social comparisons.

The Internet has made it possible to perform therapies and mental health screenings entirely online. While online treatment is unlikely to be as effective as the face-to-face variety, practitioners widely agree that the increased access and other rewards outweigh the risk of online therapy. Conversely, clinicians have expressed concern about the move towards more distant mental health screenings, especially when they could result in involuntary confinement. While there are specific situations in which a mental health screening can be done online, this work is usually best done face to face.

Many service users have found community in online forums. These communities have helped countless people safely withdraw from psychotropic drugs. These forums also offer a view from the user’s perspective of the service, allowing for new ideas that might otherwise go unnoticed. Conversely, these forums can be used to reinforce potentially harmful moralistic views of mental illness.

The work in progress is a commentary directed to another piece to be published in the same issue. In the first article, the authors discuss the consequences of the Internet on mental health, citing the creation of entirely new disorders such as “Internet addiction” and “Internet gaming disorder”, and highlighting the worsening conditions. existing, such as compulsive disorder. purchasing disorder and gambling disorder. Current work attempts to remind readers that although the Internet is indeed involved in these problems, there has been no established causal relationship between the Internet and the overall prevalence of mental disorders .

Cuijpers explains that according to the vulnerability-stress model of mental disorders, vulnerability is the most important factor because we will always be faced with stressors (whether now or in the future). According to the author, you will only develop a disorder in response to stressors when you are vulnerable. Therefore, when a new phenomenon enters society (like the Internet), it can only cause problems for vulnerable people who would probably have had a similar experience without the recent phenomenon. As proof, the author presents the relatively stable prevalence of major depression in the literature thanks to the advent of numerous societal changes.

The author concludes by problematizing the knowledge hypothesis of psychiatry around mental health. Based on the current commentary, we can never really know if the advent of the internet has increased the prevalence of mental disorders, as we probably never had a precise understanding of the prevalence in the first place. Further, the author challenges fundamental understandings in the field of mental health:

“Thinking about the impact of the Internet on the prevalence and incidence of mental disorders also shows how little we still know about mental health issues in general. What is a mental health problem, how do we define it, who has it and who does not, how do they compare to each other mental health problems, who develops them and who does not. do not suffer from it, and why? Even the most basic questions were not answered well.

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Pim Cuijpers. (2021). Commentary: Has the Internet Increased the Prevalence of Mental Disorders? – A commentary on Aboujaoude and Gega. Child and adolescent mental health. (Connect)

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