Pine Grove therapist details risks of internet overuse

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Digital despair: that's how Caroline Smith, Director of Addiction services at Hattiesburg's Pine Grove Behavioral Health and Addiction Services, described the state of our internet consumption. She said the effects of overuse by adults and age-inappropriate exposure are manifesting as mental health issues, including addiction.

According to Smith, only one percent of the world's population had access to the internet in 1995. Today, more than 40 percent have access, and every second 29,000 users are logging on.

"And over one-third of all downloads from the internet are sexual content," Smith said.

In her years of experience, she's seen the dark side of this instantaneous medium ruin families.

"68 percent of all American divorces are the direct result of one partner meeting someone online," Smith said.

Smith explained compulsive internet use is costing people their jobs.

"Almost 30 percent of all American workers use their company computer to view online inappropriate sexual content," Smith said.

She said issues facing adults are just scratching the surface. When it comes to children's use of the internet, Smith said society is creating a tsunami of mental health distress for kids. Because of social media and gaming, kids aren't learning social interaction, and there's no bonding happening between parent and child.

"Connecting with a loved one means that we are actually looking at them, attending to them and sharing in that experience," Smith said. "That creates the oxytocin that is the bonding and calming hormone that is required for mental health. That is not released when we are online."

Smith said a lack of connection can lead kids to depression, anxiety and suicide. Smith offered guidance from the website Culture Reframed, which offers tips to help parents monitor kids' internet use and gives the insight to teach parents how to talk to their children about the dangers of the internet.

"This is a privacy issue, this is a public health crisis, and it is up to us to be proactive in protecting ourselves and our families," Smith said.