In a recent study published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, researchers examined the impact of the growth in internet technology on psychological well-being and overall mental health. They found that the effect of the prolific growth of internet-based technologies on mental health worldwide has been inconsistent and minor.
The rapid growth in internet technologies in the past two decades has raised concerns about the impact on psychological well-being and mental health. Apprehensions also exist about the widespread popularity of internet-enabled technologies such as social media, smartphones, and online games among adolescents and their harmful effects on their mental health. The initial response of some governments to such concerns was to regulate the access of specific age groups to these technologies.
However, subsequent studies involving methodologies such as meta-analyses and longitudinal observations have challenged the initial views that widespread internet technologies have been harmful to the psychological well-being of users. Early studies also lacked methods for accurate measurements of internet technology engagement as well as robust sampling.
Furthermore, since there have not been any other comprehensive tests conducted to determine the association between increasing internet usage and mental health, whether an increase in the adoption of internet-based technologies has had a significantly negative impact on mental health remains unclear.
About the study
In the present research, two studies were conducted to understand changes in mental health and global well-being due to the widespread adoption of internet-based technologies. The first study examined three aspects of psychological well-being and contrasted them with data across 16 years from 168 countries on the per capita mobile-broadband subscriptions and internet users. Additionally, they evaluated 19 years of data from 202 countries on three major mental-health outcomes, namely, self-harm, depressive disorders, and anxiety disorders.
Their major aims were to understand how the proliferation of technologies enabled by the internet in the last two years has changed mental health and well-being on a global level, whether the per capita mobile-broadband subscriptions and internet users in a country can predict the mental health and well-being of the country, and whether associations between mental health and the usage of internet-based technology varies across sex and age, with indications of vulnerable populations.
The psychological well-being indicators used for the first study were self-reported negative experiences, positive experiences, and life satisfaction. Mental health data from over two million individuals between the ages of 15 and 89, collected between 2005 and 2022 from 168 countries, was contrasted with the number of mobile broadband and internet users in these countries to determine the association between internet usage and psychological well-being over the previous two decades.
In the second study, the researchers used meta-analysis data from 202 countries on mental health outcomes, such as the rates of depressive disorders, self-harm, and anxiety disorders between 2000 and 2019, to understand the impact of widespread adoption of internet-based technologies on mental health. The data was obtained from the Global Burden of Disease study conducted by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation in 2019, which consolidates information from surveys, disease registries, civil registrations, and consensus from all the countries that are members of the World Health Organization.
The results from the first study reported that in 16 years, the three indices of psychological well-being showed no changes associated with the prolific usage of internet-based technologies in any of the 168 countries. Moreover, the increases in positive and negative experiences were close to negligible and small enough not to be considered significant.
When variations in the associations between increased use of internet-enabled technologies and psychological well-being indicators were examined across countries, the results showed that no consistent connections could be observed between changes in well-being and the adoption of internet-based technology. Additionally, the associations also did not show variations across demographic groups either, and younger individuals or younger women, specifically, were not found to be particularly vulnerable.
The findings from the second study, however, showed mixed results. When compared against a point null hypothesis, the average rates of self-harm and depressive disorders were found to decrease, while those of anxiety disorders were found to increase. However, after adjusting for noise in the meta-analyses, the associations between changes in mental health outcomes and adoption of internet-based technologies were found to be insignificant.
Overall, the findings suggested that across the past two decades, the prolific development and use of internet-based technologies have not had a significant impact on psychological well-being indices or mental health outcomes. The researchers believe that more transparent analyses are required to understand the potential detrimental impacts of internet-based technologies on mental health.