Technology today offers incredible ways for friends and family to stay connected (I personally just discovered the new 'group FaceTime' feature). But after scrolling through everyone’s holiday highlight reel, I thought it was time to look up and see how this affects our mental health. Depending on the type of screen time and how long we spend glued to it, there can be an association with conditions such as depression.
Screen time comes in many forms these days including cellphones, computers, television, and video games. Our phones in particular have quickly become an extension of ourselves in today’s constantly connected world. Last year, a systematic review looked at the relationship between smartphones and mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression, chronic stress, and low self-esteem (1). This study revealed that of these concerns, depression severity had the greatest correlation with smartphone use (1). Anxiety and stress were also found to be significantly associated with smartphone use, but to a lesser extent than depression (1).
Perhaps the most vulnerable population to overuse of screen time are children and adolescents. A meta-analysis of studies looking at those ages 5-18 years found that screen time was associated with depression in a dose-dependent manner (2). This means that the longer the screen time per day, the greater severity of depression. Another study looking specifically at Canadian youth, found that the duration of screen time was associated with severity of depression and anxiety (3).
How much screen time is too much? Liu et al. found that screen time between 0-2 hours per day was associated with a lower risk of depression, with the lowest risk at 1 hour per day (2). Beyond 2 hours of screen time per day was associated with an increasing risk of depression (2). Since this study was done in children and adolescents, we can’t say for sure what this means for those of us with computer-based jobs.
We also don’t know if it is a chicken or egg phenomenon. Are people that suffer from depression more likely to spend time on their phones and screens, or are people that spend more time on screens more likely to get depression? I suspect it's a bit of both. And the problem I see in my patients is that it turns into a vicious cycle.
How can you break the cycle? First of all, you can track your screen time. Most smartphones now have the ability to do this for you (for iPhones go to settings > screen time). You can also schedule ‘downtime’ on your iPhone, which only allows certain applications to be used during that time. At night, keeping your phone outside of the bedroom (or at least out of arms reach) can help cut down on the nightly scrolling. And finally, if you do have a desk job, make sure you’re looking up and away from your computer every few minutes (your eyesight will thank you). By decreasing screen time, you’re not only supporting your mental health, but you might find you’re able to be more mindful, present, and concentrated during the day, as well as sleep better at night!
For answers to your mental health questions, or to learn how you can improve your lifestyle habits, come see me at Juniper Family Health (778-265-8340).
1. Elhai, J., Dvorak, R., Levine, J., Hall, B. (2017). Problematic smartphone use: a conceptual overview and systematic review of relations with anxiety and depression psychopathology. Journal of Affective Disorders, 207, 251-259.
2. Liu, M., Wu, L., Yao, S. (2016). Dose-response association of screen-time based sedentary behaviour in children and adolescents and depression: a meta-analysis of observational studies. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 50, 1252-1258.
3. Maras, D., Flament, M., Murray, M., Buchholz, A., Henderson, K., Obeid, N., Goldfield, G. (2015). Screen time is associated with depression and anxiety in Canadian youth. Preventative Medicine, 73, 133-138.