Background: Prevalent adolescent digital media use has brought clinical attention to its potential associated risks. While excessive digital media use has been connected to adolescent difficulties with mood and impulsivity, no study has examined digital media’s role in precipitating adolescent psychiatric admissions.
Objective: Our study aims were to identify and characterize digital media-related admissions in a sample of psychiatrically hospitalized adolescents, and to recognize unique patterns of digital media use within this sample. We hypothesized that adolescents with digital media-related admissions would endorse higher amounts of digital media use and problematic online behaviors.
Methods: We administered a cross-sectional survey to psychiatrically hospitalized adolescents between 2012 and 2016. Admissions were considered related to digital media use either by adolescent report or documentation in the medical record. Unadjusted comparisons were used to examine relationships between digital media-related psychiatric admissions, online behaviors and suicide-related risk factors.
Results: 68 of 218 participants (31.2%) had digital media-related admissions. The most frequent cause of digital media-related admission was cyberbullying (31.9%). Teens with digital-media related admissions were significantly more likely to sext, use social media, and be cyberbullied; these adolescents were also at increased risk of suicide planning and hopelessness.
Conclusion: Efforts should be made by mental health clinicians to identify and address online relational conflict, as well as to screen for cyberbullying and sexting. Clinicians should consider that adolescents with digital media-related presentations may be at elevated risk of self-harm, with higher rates of suicide planning and hopelessness compared to hospitalized peers without digital media-related admissions.