- Psychotherapist suggests a January phone detox for parents as a way to role-model healthy behaviour to children
- The number of people seeking treatment at Priory for screen based addictions has grown by more than 100% in three years, new figures reveal
- Reducing screentime is the most impactful way for most people to improve wellbeing in 2024, says mental health expert
- One in five children and young people in 2023 have a probable mental disorder, according to a new NHS Digital report
A Priory therapist and addictions expert has called for a national mobile device detox this January, to counter ‘the world’s most widespread bad habit’ and a ‘worrying’ rise in screen addiction treatment enquiries.
Beth Tudgay, therapy lead for Priory’s services in Birmingham, supports young people and adults with mental health conditions. She has urged parents to role-model healthy habits to their children by reducing screen time in 2024.
“This is the time of year for new year’s resolutions, when we think about our bad habits and ways to make small changes to improve our lives,” says Beth: “For most of us, reducing screen time would be the most impactful way to improve our wellbeing, and the wellbeing of those around us in 2024.”
Across the UK, the number of people seeking treatment at Priory for screen-based addictions has grown by more than 100% in three years, new figures reveal. Priory’s 2023 treatment enquiry figures – for addictions including gaming, gambling, internet or social media, and porn addiction – show a 118% increase in volume since 2020. Meanwhile, previous studies have estimated that, globally, 210 million people suffer from internet and social media addiction.
Beth, who supports patients at both Priory Hospital Woodbourne in Birmingham and at its Wellbeing Centre in Birmingham, says: “When we think of addicts and addictions we often think of substance mis-use or recreational drugs, but screen addiction is a serious problem. It is the world’s most widespread bad habit, which develops into an addiction for some, and seriously impacts our mental health.
“Opening up our phones releases dopamine in our brains – a neurotransmitter known as the ‘happy chemical’. Over time, we can develop an association between using our phones and gaining a rewarding, pleasurable experience, which can soon spiral into an addiction.
“The rise in screen addiction prevalence is worrying. So taking proactive steps to cut back is important for all of us, and parents may find this particularly helpful so they can better support children to do the same.”
In 2023, one in five children and young people, aged 8-25, had a probable mental disorder, according to a new report from NHS Digital, following a Mental Health of Children and Young People survey.
Wellbeing expert Beth has seen the damage of mobile phone and screen addiction first hand. She says: “Addictions start young. Parents know this of course but it can be very difficult to role model good behavior when it comes to our devices, because so many of us are gripped by screen addiction ourselves.
“One great way to cut back is to physically put our phones out of our sight during family time when we’re at home. We often get lost in unnecessary activities on our devices by accident; maybe we picked it up to check messages but ended up scrolling social media for 30 minutes without realising. If we put our phones away in a drawer, it can significantly reduce the urge to pick them up.
“We can set measurable targets for ourselves too. Your smartphone can tell you your average daily screentime. Why not set yourself a target to cut that time in half this January? Set yourself a day and time each week when you review how you’re doing, to keep yourself on track.
“I see the damage caused by unhealthy screen habits in my patients all the time. It makes us lonely and disconnected from loved ones. It makes us tired, unhappy and stressed. For some people it can have severe psychological damage in the long term, especially when the addiction starts at a young age.
“But if we make positive changes, then there are proven health and wellbeing benefits. Limiting social media use to 30 minutes each day, for example, can lead to significant reductions in symptoms of loneliness and depression.
“Make 2024 about spending time together; getting off devices, to connect with each other and make memories together. Perhaps start a new tradition for this time of year, one that can be continued with each year and has meaning attached to it. Parents and care givers could also focus on finding space and time for themselves to engage with other activities and hobbies.”
Priory is the UK’s leading independent provider of mental health and addiction services.