Elevated Social Internet Use and Schizotypal Personality Disorder in Adolescents
Youth with psychological disorders may rely on the internet for social interaction. For clinical populations of youth, the internet may provide a safe haven for social interaction as youth with psychological disorders may be subject to scrutiny and poor relations with peers. On the internet, there are avenues to interact with other people without having face-to-face contact. For example, teens may interact with peers through online fantasy games where users can be represented by characters rather than themselves. While these avenues of social interaction are popular among youth with and without psychological disorders, research has demonstrated that youth who have online friendships or relationships report higher rates of depression, conflict, and poor communication with peers and parents in the real world. Youth with psychological disorders may spend more time on the internet than peers without and may exacerbate their conditions’ symptoms. One study examined this in teens with schizotypal personality disorder. In this blog post, we discuss how elevated social internet use impacts teens with schizotypal personality disorder.
What Is Schizotypal Personality Disorder (SPD)?
Schizotypal Personality Disorder (SPD) is a psychological disorder that includes cognitive and social complications that are considered subclinical manifestations of schizophrenia. People with SPD may have social anxiety, disorganized speech, present with flat affect, have feelings of paranoia, entertain odd beliefs, and often do not have close friends outside of their families.
Researchers studied 69 teens between the ages of 12 and 18. Out of the 69 teens, 19 had SPD, 22 had other personality disorders, and 28 had no psychological disorder. Teens completed a survey which asked them questions assessing how much time they spend doing various activities on the internet, such as participating in chat rooms, sending emails, or online gaming. The study results revealed that teens with SPD spend significantly more time on the internet than teens with other personality disorders and neuro-typical ordinary teens. SPD teens also reported having significantly fewer in real life friends than teens with other personality disorders and neuro-typical ordinary teens. Lastly, researchers found that time spent in chat rooms and online gaming for teens with SPD correlated to heightened experiences of depression, social anxiety, ideas of reference, odd behavior, and unusual perception of reality.
What Does This Mean?
Increased internet use may be the result of having a psychological disorder, but it also may be a contributing factor. For therapists working with teens with psychological disorders such as SPD, working on cognitive, emotional, and social skills is essential in preventing depression and reducing social anxiety associated with in-person interaction. It may also be beneficial for therapists to work with teens with psychological disorders on regulating their time on the internet to ensure that they do not spend excessive amounts of time online in place of interacting with people in the real world. Finding activities that your client may enjoy, like organized sports or other community activities, may help your client meet and connect with others to develop close relationships.
Mittal, V. A., Tessner, K. D., & Walker, E. F. (2007). Elevated social Internet use and schizotypal personality disorder in adolescents. Schizophrenia research, 94(1-3), 50–57. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.schres.2007.04.009