Exploring the paradoxes of digital media and youth mental health: Grounding research in young lives

Presentation First Author: 
Brandi Bell

Introduction or Rationale:

Emerging technologies have the potential to support mental health promotion, illness prevention, and mental health treatment for youth; however, they also introduce new dimensions into young lives that may present challenges for youth mental health. As young lives continue to be marked by increased use of technologies and youth-focused e-mental health initiatives are developed, it is imperative that the intersections of technology and mental health in young lives are better understood.


This research has two objectives: (1) To provide an overview of the international social-science literature examining digital media and youth mental health, outlining the scope and themes with respect to both the challenges and opportunities that technology offers, and (2) To richly describe the impact of technology on young lives, particularly with respect to youth mental health.

Methods or Approach:

Literature has been reviewed using a systematic approach, searching a wide-range of social science and medical databases (including PychINFO, ERIC, CINAHL, Medline, PubMed, etc.). Research was conducted with Aboriginal, immigrant, rural, and ‘in risk’ youth (16-20 years of age) in Canada, Scotland, and Australia to examine the impact of technology on young lives. Innovative qualitative methods including in-depth interviews, dyadic interviewing of participants and their ‘digital shadows,’ and social media data capture were used to create digital profiles of participants. Thematic analysis was conducted to identify data specifically relevant to mental health.

Results or Practice/Policy Implications:

The international literature is weighted towards describing and evaluating specific targeted technology-based interventions for youth mental health with few in-depth examinations of their complex digital lives or the ways in which young people experience and navigate mental health in relation to their use of digital media. Speaking with young people about their experiences with digital media reveals both anticipated and unexpected connections between technology use and mental health. Increased clarity about the paradoxes and contradictions youth themselves experience will enhance program and policy development in media and mental health literacies, as well as interventions addressing mental health promotion, mental illness prevention/treatment, and stigma.


The intersections of digital media and youth mental health are complex and contradictory. Grounding research in the lives of young people is critical for improving understanding of how emerging technologies and mental health intersect in their lives, as well as for informing the development of e-mental health and other initiatives.

Conference Name: 
Date of Presentation: 
10th Oct 2015
Type of presentation: 
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