Question: How has social media and the modern smartphone influenced our lives?
Dr Victor Kwok: For psychological well-being, mobile applications and smartphones can play a pivotal role in fostering a sense of connectedness among individuals. Video calling platforms allow communication, while mental health apps and social media focusing on mental health help people access valuable information and resources, contributing to a reduction in the stigma surrounding mental health concerns.
In my clinic, one of my patients interestingly even uses AI to help themselves. She has anorexia nervosa and she uses ChatGPT to distinguish between healthy eating choices and the influence of her “eating disorder voice.” While nothing replaces support from her parents and healthcare team, it proved to be quite helpful.
Research also finds a positive correlation between utilising mobile phones for traditional phone calls and enhanced mental well-being. I believe that phone calls can facilitate meaningful social interactions.
For the young, social media is an important part of their lifestyle. It serves as a platform for self-expression, enabling them to garner peer approval. Additionally, the content they share – videos, jokes, and messages – shapes their identity and self-image.
On the flip side, studies have found that excessive use of social media and mobile devices may lead to increased mental distress, poorer self-image, and even self-harm behavior.
Question: What's your opinion on mobile addiction among youngsters, especially teenagers?
Dr Victor: Research indicates that excessive mobile phone use among adolescents can result in sleep deprivation, insomnia, and depressive symptoms, potentially contributing to cognitive decline, diminished academic achievements, and impaired social interactions.
Contemporary challenges encompass cyberbullying, necessitating intervention. Additionally, comparisons with peers and the fear of missing out (FOMO) can trigger psychological distress.
Social media’s portrayal of unrealistic body images may affect self-esteem and exacerbate eating disorders. In fact, a study I conducted in 2016 found a positive correlation between social media use and eating disorders. (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1876201815002798)
Notably, teenagers with ADHD appear more vulnerable to mobile addiction. They are already rather impulsive and easily distracted. This is made worse when they are exposed to apps that employ algorithms designed for addictive engagement. The release of dopamine in our brain makes them keep asking for more.
Question: Older people are more mobile addicted these days due to the lack of human interaction possible for them. In what way do you think it affects/influences them?
Interestingly, some studies found that social media and mobile phones can be helpful for older people. It can be because they are physically unable to leave the house, or they may face other difficulties like hearing impairment. Hence, phones and apps can help them become more socially connected, leading to better cognitive function, and allowing them to access more helpful health information. Therefore, social media use can supplement real-life social interactions which are still important, such as face-to-face interactions.
Nonetheless, older people are susceptible to fake news, phone addiction, and scams. They need help with mental health literacy.
Question: Did your patients get worse due to mobile addiction?
I believe a strong correlation exists between the use of social media and mobile devices and mental health conditions. Several of my patients dealing with depression and anxiety acknowledge using phones for distractions to manage negative emotions.
Presently, I am treating a 30-year-old female accountant subjected to workplace bullying by her superiors, resulting in a lowered mood. Consequently, she has developed a fear of emails or messages, even resorting to renaming her superiors to avoid distress. She also changed the WhatsApp icon and renamed it. Her attachment to social media apps like TikTok and mobile games further keeps her in bed, serving as a strategy to emotionally numb her. It affects her sleep hygiene as she stays up late. I’ve recommended walks without the phone, emphasising the need to adopt healthier coping mechanisms.
Another case involves a 15-year-old boy who has been avoiding school due to persistent bullying, resulting in a year-long absence. He struggles to even approach the school, despite his father’s attempts to expose him to his anxieties by driving him to a coffee shop opposite the school. He hides in his room when the school counselor and teachers visit. The father’s indulgence contrasts with the mother’s sense of helplessness as the father frequently relents on imposed rules. The boy’s intense addiction to his computer and phone prompted the mother’s attempt to disconnect the WiFi. He became very aggressive during that time.
Additionally, I’ve encountered several clients with Adult ADHD who experience heightened distractibility owing to their phones. They find themselves engrossed in shopping sites, social media platforms, or mobile games, amplifying their tendencies to procrastinate and miss project deadlines.
Question: Do you have any tips to overcome phone addiction?
Awareness of apps and mobile phones’ addictive nature is crucial. We must assess their impact on our lives and motivations. Unhealthy social media use emerges when we neglect real relationships, lose focus on work or studies, or seek validation through ‘likes’. Reevaluating these habits becomes essential.
1. Take Breaks: Limit social media usage or take breaks by temporarily removing apps. Overcoming initial withdrawal anxiety may reveal a more authentic version of yourself.
2. Reflect and Substitute: Examine motives for social media use. Replace digital interactions with real-life activities like meeting friends or pursuing hobbies.
3. Find Balance: If distressing news affects you, modify social media use. Follow entertainment accounts or enjoy amusing animal videos for a lighter experience.
For Children and Teens:
1. Set Ground Rules: Establish guidelines like ‘no phones at meals’ or ‘no phones after 9 pm’.
2. Use Parental Tools: Employ supervision tools with time limits to curb addictive behavior.
3. Monitor Content: Periodically review their online consumption for age-appropriate material. Address negative news accurately.
4. Promote Offline Activities: Encourage face-to-face interactions and offline hobbies, such as sports.
5. Offer Support: Assure kids they can confide in trusted adults if they encounter online challenges or cyberbullying.
6. Open Discussions: Talk openly about the pros and cons of social media and mobile devices.
Dr Victor Kwok
Psychiatrist, Medical Doctor
Private Space Medical
Psychiatrist, Medical Doctor
Private Space Medical