Fatigue. Moodiness. A sense of disconnectedness. Loss of interest in hobbies.
Those are all signs of depression. And they may also be signs that you're spending too much time on-line.
Panelists at a Wednesday community conversation spoke for nearly two hours at Farmington Hills city hall about how the Internet, and social media in particular, affect mental health. About 40 people attended the event, hosted by the Farmington Area Suicide Prevention Task Force (FASPTF).
Mark Ostach, a Farmington High graduate, led the discussion. Working with engineer Paul Loe, Ostach created mymentalspace.com, which provides Internet users a tool to help control the time they spend online.
Ostach said "Internet use disorder" has been recommended for further study in the 2013 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
"You're starting to see the scientific community catch up," he said.
Dealing with the vast amount of information available leaves the brain's neural pathways "firing all the time", which can lead to fatigue, Ostach said. "You're constantly engaging your brain in the 'fight or flight' mode."
Another problem is "thought obligation", or the expectation of responsiveness. Panelist Dr. Ara Brown, an administrator at Cranbrook Upper School in Bloomfield Hills, said people used to have time to consider their response to a letter or a voice mail message, but today's expectation requires an immediate response.
International Academy student Hannah Fahoome said she does not keep her cell phone on her at all times, and she has gotten mulitiple text messages from friends concerned that she's not immediately responding to them.
Facebook a distraction
But Facebook is another story. Fahoome said she often checks the social media site, especially when she has "really big homework assignments". She'll go on Facebook to ask a friend for help, and "the next thing I know, it's a half-hour later."
Her IA class has a homework help group on Facebook. "It's excellent ... but it also sometimes is my excuse for checking (Facebook)," she said.
Brown said Facebook has been the biggest distraction for Cranbrook's 250 boarding students during the 2-hour study hall they attend in the evenings. Students who have voluntarily installed Ostach's mymentalspace.com have "really cut down their Facebook usage".
Southfield Christian School counselor Berkley Brown urged parents to set boundaries for their children, gathering all electronics before children go to bed and keeping their bedrooms virtually free of electronics at night. She said in talking with students, she learned that some will use energy drinks to fuel online gaming or texting late at night, when everyone else in their family is asleep.
Brown said her conversations with students and parents at the start of the school year include a "digital health component". She also urges parents to teach children about how to establish good boundaries, so that they don't feel compelled to respond to all of the electronic stimulation in their lives.
Conversations are key when it comes to helping kids with depression or suicidal thoughts, FASPTF member Ken Massey said. He pointed out that online conversations tap into only about 15 percent of how people communicate, eliminating eye contact, body language, intonations and other subtle ways human beings use to get their points across.
"What we're here for is to initiate the dialogue, so you can have something to talk about besides the weather or the political silly season we're in," he said. "Through that, maybe we can open up some dialogues about things that are happening to people in our community."
FASPTF member Sara Majoros, a Farmington Schools parent, former teacher and North Farmington High graduate, said the Internet is not all bad. She cited the task force's Facebook page, through which they share helpful information, and a new on-line "chat" at Common Ground, which provides 24-hour crisis counseling and service.
"I think that is an amazing use of the Internet," she said.
To get help with depression or suicidal thoughts, call Common Ground, 800-231-1127, Samaritan Counseling, 248-474-4701, or the National Suicide Prevention hotline, 800-273-TALK. If you need immediate help, or know someone who does, call 911.