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Legendary Life’s “No Phone Challenge” to Support Mental Health Blog Series:

Post #2: The Connection Between Screen Time and the Global Mental Health Crisis

This is the 2nd in a series of blogs that we will be posting in conjunction with Legendary Life’s launch of our “No Phone Challenge” Remember to download the LiveYourLegendaryLife Phone App for iPhone and Android (insert download links here). The app has a free “No Phone Challenge” Module as well as additional functionality and content to assist you with the challenge.

As a society, we have never experienced a mental health crisis the likes of which we face right now. The COVID pandemic has only exacerbated what was already an epidemic and all too silent killer that has afflicted adults and children alike across all demographics. Indeed, experts coined the term, “Lockdown Depression” to describe the massive impact that the global pandemic had on people’s mental health. Stress, lockdowns, social distancing, and uncertainty of the future were a huge trigger for many people developing some type of depression for the first time. At the same time, the aforementioned situations also served to worsen the symptoms of depression in those who were already suffering pre-COVID. The recent rollbacks and / or easing of the pandemic restrictions by most western countries hasn’t necessarily done much to ease this crisis however. While forced isolation may not be as prominent as it was two years ago, many people pivoted permanently to a remote work dynamic during COVID, and the more isolated lifestyle that goes with it. As a corollary, this dynamic also exacerbated many people’s already over-reliance on technology,  especially their phones and social media apps. 

Here’s just a few of the notable and alarming statistics about the current mental health crisis:

  • Young people’s suicide rates have escalated by 56% in recent years.
  • The World Health Organization Estimates that over 264 million people are suffering from depression right now.
  • In the US, about one in five women ages 40 to 59 and nearly one in four women ages 60 and over used antidepressants in the last 30 days during 2015 to 2018, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics. Among women ages 18 to 39, the figure was about one in 10. Those figures have been climbing even higher since the onset of the COVID pandemic.
  • 1 in 5 Americans lives with some type of mental illness according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). That’s nearly 51.5 million of adult Americans living with mild, moderate, and severe mental illness. That means 20.6% of the population struggles with some kind of a mental disorder.
  • Symptoms of depression in men include irritability, anger, overeating, physical aches, and engaging in high-risk activities. (Source: NIMH) Due to the fact that anger is rarely interpreted as a sign of depression, men are oftentimes left without a diagnosis or misdiagnosed. The poor job that we as a society have done in diagnosing and treating depression in men has a very high price to pay for all of us. Not just for the men suffering from depression and their familes. The trickle down effect for misdiagnosed, undiagnosed, and untreated depression in men is higher rates of domestic violence, higher instances of violent road rage instances, assaults, and even mass violence. Many experts now believe there to be a correlation in the increased rates we’ve seen in the US in all these violent crime categories since the onset of the pandemic with the corresponding increase in depression rates among men.

The importance of raising awareness around maintaining mental health and in being able to seek and receive ready access to treatment for mental health challenges has never been greater than it is currently. Furthermore, it is also equally important for people to be able to seek help with mental health issues without the stigma that seeking treatment has sometimes brought with it. There should be no more stigma or shame in seeking care for a mental health challenge as there is for treating a broken arm or a toothache.

The link between the rise in phone over-reliance and the increase mental health challenges: 

Few would deny that our smartphones are wonderful tools. Some would even argue that they are simply indispensable tools for being a successful participant in modern society. Our phones help guide us to where we need to go, keep us connected to friends, family, and news from around the world, they record our memories, and even can act as a lifeline when needed. However, too much of anything is a bad thing, and as a society we have become too attached to our phones. This has had a demonstrably negative impact on our collective mental health. It has contributed to everything from a rise in generalized anxiety to increased rates of suicide in teens. 

One statistic that skyrocketed since the onset of the pandemic is people’s daily screen time. Especially our collective smartphone and social media use. This isn’t just a Gen Z issue either. It’s been seen in every demographic from grade school to retirement communities. While our collective addiction to our smartphones and social media accounts was already a problem pre-2020, COVID provided a perfect storm of conditions for it to increase precipitously over the past two years with the lockdowns and shifts to remote work and schooling. For many people, their weekly screen time has risen to unhealthy levels. 

A  couple of the critical factors that have contributed to our current mental health crisis are:

  • Our over-reliance on digital connection, which is often a shallow and tenuous type of connection, versus actual, real world, human connection. 
  • Our collective addiction to living too much of our lives online in the “metaverse” and not enough time in the physical universe that we all share.

So what can we do to break the addiction and its mental health impact while also bringing awareness to the positive aspects of regularly unplugging? By hacking our own subconscious. By taking back conscious sovereignty of our own minds. By resetting our brains back to “factory settings”. By  reconditioning ourselves in a conscious, positive way through taking part in Legendary Life’s “No Phone Challenge”.

We are not advocating that anyone revert back to doing activities in the real world that you have transitioned online. For example, most of us like being able to shop online and have the commodity items that we need in our daily life delivered to our door instead of having to run around town in your car, shopping in physical stores, waiting in lines, etc. 

Also, let’s be real. Very few of us that were able to pivot to remote, hybrid, or flex work schedules have any interest in returning to the office full time. Indeed, many aspects (some would argue most aspects) of the shift to remote work are undeniably a net positive over the pre-pandemic work / life balance dynamic.  

There’s only a special few of us who pine for the days when we would have to sit in horrendous traffic every day, spilling coffee on ourselves during long, stressful commutes. Only to arrive at a soulless office building where we sat under fluorescent lights in a cubicle farm worrying about whether our cubemate was going to have the audacity to microwave fish in the office kitchen again today. 

However, for too many people, those hours sitting in traffic have been replaced by hours of “zombie scrolling” through our social media feeds or “doom scrolling” the “news”. Our lunches and happy hours with co-workers and friends have been replaced with mindlessly watching Tik Tok and YouTube videos. The social connection we felt catching up with co-workers around the water cooler or coffee machine has been replaced by arguing with random people (and even arguing with AI bots) on Twitter, battling FOMO, and exerting untold energy to generate FOMO in others by spending mental resources trying to portray some sort of idealized (yet clearly fictional) portrayal of your life in your social media accounts. 

Maybe it’s time to ask ourselves, Do we want to have a happy, healthy, even a “legendary” life (see what I did there? 😉) or do we only want to appear to have one. You may only be able to pick one. Remember, the process of trying to appear happy, successful, important, etc. takes away from the energy you need to actually become those things.

Next Post: The No Phone Challenge: “The Rules of the Game

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Todd Luongo

A founding partner of Legendary Life, Todd Luongo is a respected and in-demand executive advisor, consultant and investor for Silicon Valley start-ups as well as being a serial entrepreneur in his own right. Todd is also an accomplished writer, in-demand speaker, independent film producer, ardent traveler, fitness enthusiast, history buff and lifelong student of the Universe.