• MSCP

Digital Technology and Depression

Updated: Oct 24, 2019

Written by Assoc Prof Dr Alvin Ng Lai Oon, Clinical Psychologist and Founding President of the MSCP


Digital technology has radically altered the way we communicate and socialise.


The current generation spends a lot of time with digital devices. While these devices help with daily communication and information resourcing, they can also bring psychological harm if used unskilfully. Social skills and inhibition can get stunted, as seen in the example of hurtful remarks or comments online. Furthermore, text messages can also be easily misunderstood because of typos or poor word choices.


Other potential problems include:

  • Cognitive overload: Spending excessive time using digital technology means more time focusing visually fleeting information. This attention-switching from one information to another can lead to cognitive overload and mental fatigue.

  • Emotional fatigue: Self- worth being associated with online acceptance seen in constant checking for messages and agonising over how to reply online messages can be mentally and emotionally exhausting, sometimes leading to rude behaviours.

  • Digital or social media addiction: Excessive usage can result in addiction, thus leading to detachment from real world social interactions, as well as a reduction in opportunities to learn adaptive behaviour skills to cope with life in general.


Worrying research results


The Malaysian National Health and Morbidity Survey 2017 shows:

  • Thoughts of suicide: 10.0%

  • Plans to suicide: 7.3%

  • Suicide attempts: 6.9%

  • Depression: 18.3%

  • Anxiety: 39.7%

  • Stress: 9.6%

  • Internet addiction: 29.0%

A UK survey of teens & young adults below the age of 24 found that not all social media had undesirable effects on mental health. Most adolescents use social media to connect with their friends and to seek friendship or support, so a blanket ban on isn’t the answer. As we move towards Industry 4.0, it is important to teach your teen about social media dangers, and at the same time, be on the lookout for signs of uncharacteristic changes in him.



Recognising depression


A significant sign of a major depressive episode is a lack of joy, or depressed mood (including lack of interest or pleasure in previously enjoyed activities) for two weeks or more. Younger children may come across as being easily irritable rather than depressed. Other signs/symptoms include:

  • Feeling hopeless/worthless

  • No interest in normal daily activities or socialising

  • Easily irritable

  • Significant weight gain/loss

  • Diminished self-care

  • Significant change in appetite

  • Significant change in sleep patterns

  • Fatigue or loss of energy

  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions

  • Complaints of headaches or stomach aches

  • Recurrent thoughts about death (suicidal thoughts, actions, or plans)

Being depressed can affect academic performance and relationships with family and friends. Depression in adolescents can happen gradually, so stay alert and be ready to get help if necessary.


How you can help


Refrain from immediately stepping in and allow your teen more leeway in handling problems himself. Other things to keep in mind:

  • Be a role model. Follow your own rules (e.g. no phones during family meal times, etc.) in setting limits. Show him how to use social media positively to expand his learning experience.

  • Have frequent chats. Don’t be afraid to talk about your own experiences with social media (e.g. your emotions and how you deal with things).

  • Temper your response. Avoid judgemental remarks.



Most importantly, talk to him and find out as much as you can about what is troubling him. Resist the urge to fix things for him – use this as a learning opportunity for him to learn how to handle things. Give him suggestions, but let him decide how he responds to it. Be mindful that depression is usually maintained by a multitude of factors, and not just social media or digital devices only. However, improper digital device use can contribute to the lack of skills in addressing emotional difficulties.


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