ICT use and mental health in young adults. Effects of computer and mobile phone use on stress, sleep disturbances, and symptoms of depression
Abstract: The overall aim of this thesis was to explore possible associations between information and communication technology (ICT) use and mental health symptoms among young adults. By “ICT” in this context is meant mainly computer and mobile phone use. The thesis contains three longitudinal cohort studies using self-report questionnaires and one qualitative interview study. Study I was performed in a cohort of medical and computer science students (19–25 years old, n=1127). Prospective associations were found between ICT use at baseline and stress, sleep disturbances, and symptoms of depression at 1 year follow-up. Study II explored possible explanations for the associations between ICT and mental health symptoms by means of qualitative interviews with 32 high ICT users (20–28 years old). The concepts and ideas of the young adults generated a model showing several possible paths for associations between ICT exposure and mental health symptoms. In studies III and IV, parts of this model were tested in a population-based cohort of young adults (20–24 years old, n=4163). In Study III, a high frequency of mobile phone use at baseline was a risk factor for reporting sleep disturbances in the men and symptoms of depression in both sexes at 1 year follow-up. The risk for reporting mental health symptoms at follow-up was greatest among those who reported that they perceived accessibility via mobile phones as stressful. In Study IV, duration of computer use was prospectively associated with sleep disturbances in the men while for the women often using the computer without breaks was a prospective risk factor for stress, sleep disturbances, and symptoms of depression, at follow-up. High duration of emailing and chatting at leisure was a risk factor for sleep disturbances in the men and for most mental health outcomes in the women. Daily computer gaming for 1–2 hours was associated with an increased risk for symptoms of depression in the women. Often using the computer late at night and consequently losing sleep was associated with several mental health outcomes in both sexes. These findings suggest that sleep is an important mediating factor to focus on in future studies. Public health prevention strategies aimed at young adults could include information and advice about healthy ICT use, for example, advice about the importance of taking breaks and ensuring recovery when using e.g., computers intensively, and advice to set limits for own (and others) accessibility. In conclusion, the main findings in the thesis suggest that intensive ICT use can have an impact on mental health in young adults. Frequent mobile phone use was a prospective risk factor for reporting sleep disturbances in the men and symptoms of depression in both sexes. Intensive computer use (“intensive” in terms of duration of use or continuous use without breaks) was a prospective risk factor for reporting sleep disturbances in the men and stress, sleep disturbances, and symptoms of depression in the women. Combined intensive computer and mobile phone use enhanced associations with mental health symptoms.
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