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Too Much Television, Lack of Sleep And Exercise Affects Teens’ Mental Health

Last updated Sept. 6, 2015

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Rowan Saunders

While most parents, teachers and clinicians would react to an adolescent using drugs or getting drunk, they may easily overlook adolescents engaging in unobtrusive behaviors such as watching too much TV, not playing sports, or sleeping too little.


A new study reveals that high media use, with the combination of low physical activity and lack of sleep, may increase the risk of mental illness for adolescents.

Published in World Psychiatry, researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden analyzed more than 12,000 adolescents aged between 14 to 16 years across 11 European countries for the prevalence of risk behaviors - like excessive alcohol use, illegal drug use, reduced sleep, sedentary behavior and high use of TV, internet and video games not related to school or work – by using a questionnaire called the Global School-based Student Health Survey (GSHS). 

The research team searched for links between these risk behaviors and mental illness – such as depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behaviors in the adolescents. The researchers discovered three risk groups when analyzing the results:

“High-risk” group – Scored high on all examined risk behaviors. This made up 13 percent of the adolescents.
“Low-risk” group – Scored low or zero on all risk behaviors. This made up 58 percent of the adolescents.
“Invisible” group – Had high media use, sedentary behavior and reduced sleep. This made up 29 percent of the adolescents.

Although these behaviors are not usually associated with mental health issues, the teenagers in the “invisible” group showed similar levels of suicidal thoughts, anxiety, subthreshold depression (less than five symptoms of depression) and depression as adolescents in the "high-risk" group.

The researchers released, “While most parents, teachers and clinicians would react to an adolescent using drugs or getting drunk, they may easily overlook adolescents engaging in unobtrusive behaviors such as watching too much TV, not playing sports, or sleeping too little.

While discussions with adolescents often focus on substance abuse and delinquency, the risk behaviors identified here need to be considered, and special attention given to encouraging sufficient sleep, participation in sports and using new media moderately.” 

The investigators realized that the most common risk factors among boys were drug and alcohol use, while sleeping problems and a sedentary lifestyle were more common among girls.

"In summary, the results of this study confirm the need for early prevention and intervention in the mental health field," the study authors add, "[...] preventive interventions should be tailored specifically for boys and girls."

Additional Resource:

http://www.wpanet.org/uploads/Publications/WPA_Journals/World_Psychiatry/Past_Issues/English/World%20Psychiatry_February%202014.pdf 

Drug Prevention 4 Teens

http://www.justice.gov/dea/pr/multimedia-library/publications/prevention4teens.pdf

Addiction Prevention: 34 Essential Lesson Plans for Educators

http://www.newbeginningsdrugrehab.org/addiction-prevention-lesson-plan-guide 

Alternative Treatments for Addiction

http://www.healthyplace.com/alternative-mental-health/addictions/alternative-treatments-for-addiction

Teen Depression - A Guide for Parents

http://www.helpguide.org/mental/depression_teen.htm

Mental Health Service Provider Search

http://www.zocdoc.com/therapist-counselors

Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide

http://www.sptsusa.org

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Feb. 6, 2014
Last updated: Sept. 6, 2015