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Increased Screen Time and Mental Health Issues During COVID

Researchers look at how screen time might impact mental health during COVID.

Source: niklas_hamann/Unsplash

This guest post was written by Gabbie Froiland.

It is no secret that the novel Coronavirus is taking a toll on people all over the world. There are several secondary issues that have come about, such as mental illness, loss of jobs, and feelings of loneliness. Now that people all around the globe are forced to stay inside, there is a stark increase in time spent staring at a screen. People are streaming more, scrolling more, and browsing more. What are the implications of this? Researchers Smith et al. take a deeper look into the link between screen time and mental health in their article from Psychiatry Research.

The data for this study was gathered through an online survey platform administered to 932 United Kingdom citizens of all ages and backgrounds. The survey included questionnaires about the duration of time spent on screens, along with two mental health measurement tools: the Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI) and the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI). The BAI and BDI are 21-item questionnaires with a higher score reflecting a higher level of anxiety and/or depression, respectively. Demographic information was also collected, including sex, age, marital status, employment status, and household income. From this cross-sectional study, the authors concluded:

“After adjusting for several potential confounding factors, a positive association between screen time per day in hours and poor mental health in the overall sample (OR=1.07, 95% CI=1.02–1.13) was noted. The relationship between screen time per day and poor mental health was also found to be significant in women (OR=1.07, 95% CI=1.01–1.14) and adults aged 35–64 years irrespective of sex (OR=1.13, 95% CI=1.05–1.22).”

This study points out the importance of mental health during this unprecedented time. Although this study was completed in the United Kingdom, we can assume that this is translatable to other parts of the world, as well. Not only are people more likely to be spending hours on Zoom calls, but with easier access to streaming services and an increase in social media use, there are bound to be mental health issues that arise. Some of this screen time is inevitable, so it is important to find healthy ways to cope in order to decrease your risk of mental health issues. In the study, Smith et al. end with a call to action for public health officials:

“In conclusion, public health responses to address screen use and promote good mental health during COVID-19 related social distancing measures are likely required.”

Not only is this a public health issue, but it is a personal issue. Public health personnel have so many things to deal with in a time such as this, so it is our personal duty to seek out help and discover healthy coping mechanisms to share with family, friends, and colleagues. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has released a small list of action items that can help reduce mental illness through positive coping during a disastrous event like COVID-19:

  • Take care of your body: Eat a well-balanced diet, exercise regularly, and get plenty of sleep. Avoid alcohol, tobacco, along with other drugs.
  • Connect with others: Share your struggles with close friends and family.
  • Take breaks: Take time to unwind, take deep breaths, and do activities that you enjoy.
  • Stay informed: Read or watch the news from trusted officials/sources. Be wary of information spread on social media, as many pieces of information are rumors.
  • Avoid too much exposure to the news: Take breaks from listening, reading, or watching the news. It can be extremely hard on your mental well-being to keep hearing about the crisis. Try to return to normal life as much as possible with the current restrictions.
  • Seek help when needed: If distress is interfering with your day-to-day life for several days or weeks, talk to a counselor or doctor. You can also call the SAMHSA helpline at 1-800-985-5990.
Gabbie Froiland, used with permission
Source: Gabbie Froiland, used with permission

About the Author: Gabbie Froiland is an accelerated M.A. student at the Humanitarian and Disaster Institute at Wheaton College. She earned her B.S. in Applied Health Science and minor in Psychology in May of 2020 and is on track to receive her M.A. in Humanitarian and Disaster Leadership in May of 2021.


Smith, L., Jacob, L., Trott, M., Yakkundi, A., Butler, L., Barnett, Y., Armstrong, N. C., McDermott, D., Schuch, F., Meyer, J., López-Bueno, R., Sánchez, G., Bradley, D., & Tully, M. A. (2020). The association between screen time and mental health during COVID-19: A cross sectional study. Psychiatry research, 292, 113333.