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Expert Links Spike In Teen Anxiety, Depression To Smartphone, Social Media Dependency

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - Today's teens are under pressure to succeed, get into a good college, be liked, and more.

While that's always been the case, more and more kids are suffering from severe and debilitating anxiety because of it.

Teenage angst never been more apparent than in this generation.

In the past five years, studies show a sudden and marked increase in teen depression and suicide. Now, more than a one-third of American teens suffer from severe - and sometimes paralyzing -- anxiety.

"It's really about being anxious all the time," one teen said.

And to find the reason why, you may not need look further than your teen's smartphone.

Twenge said depression and anxiety in teens began spiking in 2011 and 2012 when more than half of America got a smartphone.

"That's exactly when these mental health issue started to spike among teens. When the smartphone became the norm, that's when these mental health issues showed up," Psychologist Jean Twenge said.

More teens than ever complain of severe loneliness. They've retreated to their rooms at home, spend less and less time out in the real world, while diving deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole of their phone.

Twenge calls them iGen -- the first generation to spend their entire adolescence on a smartphone instead of hanging out with their friends in person. Teens like Christian Brown communicate through text or social media.

"You're interacting with a phone with a human being on it but not any actually organism – a human being," Brown said.

Through their phone, they become hyperaware of their social status. How many likes are they getting? How many followers on Snapchat and Instragram, etc.

Teens constantly compare and rate themselves against each other. They also know when they've been excluded from parties and other social events.

"You see them having fun and you say what am I doing right now? Absolutely nothing and it sucks. Why can't I be there with them? Why can't I do that? It just brings you down," Brown said.

And even with negative results, teens find it hard to disengage. Many are now spending more than eight hours on their phones a day. Twenge says it's a dependency that is causing kids who might have resolved their feelings in the past to slip into depression and severe anxiety.

"This generation they're really guinea pigs in an unintentional experiment with technology," she said.

So what can parents do?

Strictly banning the phone is probably not an option, but psychologists recommend speaking with your teen about these danger and having them try to limit their use. If they have become depressed, get them professional help.

Brown is part of a local group called Reel Teens Pittsburgh, who are actually trying to use social media to take the problem of depression and anxiety head-on. They host a Facebook live forum at Point Park University inviting teens to share their own stories online, helping each other know they're not alone.

In her book, "iGEN: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy--and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood--and What That Means for the Rest of Us" Twenge says it time the rest of realize the scope of the problem and he need for answers.

"iGen is definitely a generation with a mental health crisis," she said.

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