While most teens spend a good deal of time online, a study on the mental health of adolescents has found that 34.3% of children in Kerala are facing multiple problems including depression, anxiety, and stress due to internet addiction.
While 61.3% of children have symptoms of mild to extremely severe depression, 14.8% children’s mental health condition requires immediate medical assistance. For the study conducted by NGO Kanal, samples were collected from 16 schools during 2022-23 academic year. Among the 457 adolescents, 58.4% were high school students and 33.9% were higher secondary students. While the average age of participants is 14.8 years, 75.7% are from rural areas. “Two questionnaires were prepared for the purpose and each participant was interviewed for 60 to 90 minutes. DASS 21 and IAT were the scales used for the study. Compared to studies from other States, the figures are rather high in Kerala,” says Anson P.D. Alexander, director, Kanal.
As per the study, 13.8% of children showed severe and 13.8% had extremely severe levels of anxiety. It was also revealed that 10.3% were experiencing severe stress while 2.8% had extremely severe stress. “Though the internet use among children peaked during the pandemic, we don’t have a pre-COVID-19 data to conclude it is a recent surge,” says Mr. Alexander. While 31.5% participants have no internet addiction, 34.1% are average online users. According to the study, addiction was found more in boys than girls and it was also inferred that children living in urban areas had higher internet addiction scores compared to those from rural parts. Children with digital dependency and a compulsive need to be online also to reported higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression.
Though the study points out internet addiction as a major factor negatively impacting children’s mental health, banning all gadgets is not advised. “Excessive usage of internet causes dopamine surge and when parents try to end it abruptly, it leads to withdrawal symptoms. Two factors that mostly trigger adolescent suicide is child abuse and internet addiction. Of late, we are seeing many cases related to internet addiction, especially when the device is taken from them,” adds Mr. Alexander.