What is driving the rise in mental health issues?

To build a more in-depth understanding of the effects of the constant parade of fragmented, ever-shifting images that make up today’s digital experience, research science needs to go beyond looking at the amount of mere “screen time” devoted to our devices. They need to dig deeper if they are to comprehend what exactly individuals are exposed to and what is problematic and for whom. There is no easy way to study this.

That these screen experiences are causing health problems for some seems to be beyond question. The results of a study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health are a recent case in point. For the study, the researchers analyzed data of more than 1,700 adults between the ages of 18 and 65. What they discovered was that people who use dating apps seem to have substantially higher odds of having an eating disorder compared with those who do not use these apps. In the study, they found women were particularly vulnerable. On one hand, online dating helps some people connect and socialize, but on the other hand, the technology can also lead to discrimination, racism and body-shaming.

The study found that women using dating apps had from 2.3 to 26.9 times higher odds of using elevated “unhealthy weight control behaviors” including self-induced vomiting, fasting or using diet pills and laxatives. Men who dated online were also found to be at greater risk, with 3.2 to 14.6 times the odds of using unhealthy weight management practices, including using steroids.

The study does not imply that there is a cause-and-effect relationship between online dating and unhealthy weight management. What it suggests is that as the popularity of these apps grows, so does speculation that they could negatively affect a person’s relationship with their body image.


“While we do not know if the people in our study were already engaging in these weight control behaviors before using dating apps, we worry that the use of these image and appearance-focused services could exacerbate those behaviors,” writes study author Dr. Alvin Tran, a postdoctoral associate at the Yale School of Medicine.

Is today’s hyper-connected world, “anxiety-inducing” also seems a fair question. We all experience it. With anxiety, it is always a question of degree. When it becomes so severe that the basic business of living becomes compromised, it moves into the realm of being a clinical disorder. According to a Time magazine report, 2.6 billion people around the world suffer from this illness — 33.7 percent of the world population. According to the National Institutes of Health, the number 2.6 billion represents the population that will at some point experience an anxiety disorder.

While anxiety disorders respond well to professional care, there is no blood test or brain scan that can conclusively diagnose it. Consequently, far too many people do not receive treatment. An individual with high anxiety can also affect those around them — even the family pet. If you are anxious, your dog may be feeling the stress as well.

As reported by NPR, a new study followed dogs and their owners over the course of months to see how stress hormones in both animal and human changed over time. The study, published in Scientific Reports, showed that dog owners experiencing long bouts of stress can transfer it to their dogs.


This was determined by taking hair samples from the dogs and their owners to test for cortisol, a stress-related hormone that canines and humans share. They found that dog cortisol levels seemed to mirror the personality traits of their owners.

What about the stress transfer between a parent and child? It is easy for parents to miss the warning signs of adolescent depression and chalk them up to “typical” teen behavior. As a consequence, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, 80 percent of youth in this country who suffer from mental health disorders such as depression — about 12 million young people — are either undertreated or not treated at all.

According to a Pew Research Center study, more than 45 percent of teens with access to a smartphone are said to be online obsessively during every waking hour. Electronic devices are so intertwined with their lives that the real world and virtual world become inseparable. Does this also play a role in mental health disorders? Youth depression is a concern plaguing our nation. A study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology finds that the number of young people with mental health disorders has more than doubled over the past decade. Teens who are depressed often struggle with anxiety and substance abuse as well.

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that nearly 3.2 million 12- to-17-year-olds have had at least one major depressive episode in the past 12 months. What has contributed to this increase? For more than a decade, researchers have desperately sought to determine an answer. One has yet to emerge.


Doctors in the U.S. are experiencing symptoms of burnout at almost twice the rate of other workers. Meanwhile, we wait for the wake-up call to the crisis that is upon us.

Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness.