Staff and students from Clarkson Community High School collaborated with researchers from University of Western Australia in a world first longitudinal study to investigate the effects of screen use on adolescent mental health over time.
Researchers developed a model to test whether changes in screen use predicted future changes in depressive symptoms or vice versa. Some of the findings of screen use are shown in these infographics.
The research was the first to identify (i) multiple trajectories of depressive symptoms among high school students and link these to different types of screen activity (e.g., gaming, social media) and (ii) no significant negative relationships between screen use and adolescents’ mental health and psychological wellbeing and vice versa.
Loneliness and Friendships Change in Adolescence
Clarkson students participated in a world first 4-year longitudinal study examining trajectories of loneliness, friendships and mental health. Adolescents experience greater levels of loneliness than any other age group, and for adolescents with neuro-developmental conditions (NDDs) such as ADHD, Autism or Specific Learning disabilities loneliness is more intense. Part way through our study, young people attending Western Australian schools were confronted with daily media coverage of the oncoming pandemic and for these students, Term One ended early leading to an extended period of time away from school and friends. These actions were critical and warranted to protect the health and wellbeing of Western Australian citizens. The outcomes of these practices are not fully understood, however, especially among school-aged students.
The findings paint an interesting picture. Compared to normal Pre-pandemic schooling, average levels of depressive symptoms increased among adolescents during and after school closure, along with feelings of isolation. In addition, student’s levels of positive mental wellbeing decreased. Thus, the mental wellbeing of students overall, deteriorated over time. However, adolescents who reported having better quality friendships prior to school closure experienced lower levels of depressive symptoms when schools closed and afterwards. This suggests that having a quality friend is an important protective factor against developing adverse mental health. Notably, the pandemic and the resulting school closure had a lesser impact on adolescents with NDDs, possibly due to them having more experiences with meaningful friendship difficulties and isolation prior to the pandemic.
Our findings highlight that while we think of adolescents as having high levels of online contact with friends, this may not be sufficient to combat feelings of loneliness and to support mental wellbeing.
Minds Online – negative thought patterns and cognitive distortions: Innovative treatments for adolescents
Systematic misinterpretations of ambiguous information are arguably the hallmarks of, and causal in, the development of emotional dysfunction and mental health disorders. Clarkson Community High School students are helping us develop a world-leading program, incorporating innovative 3-D interactive animation which uses Cognitive Bias Modification (CBM), a successful therapeutic approach used to alter everyday unhelpful and negative thought patterns that arise as a result of negative interpretive bias.
This program will include 10x 25 minute fully scripted episodes that take students through their daily school based challenges and local environmental interactions. Repeatedly exposing young people to the issues that challenge their mental health every day and helping to resolve these challenges in a benign way prevents the onset of mental health conditions such as anxiety. Recently, Clarkson students from Years 7 to 11 successfully piloted the first part of our program. Their keen insight into the issues that affect adolescents has helped shape our program. The initial results have now been communicated with our international partners across the international academic community and the WA department of Education.
Written by Professor Stephen Houghton, University of Western Australia.