The Relationship Between Screen Time and Mental Health

December 14, 2023

The Relationship Between Screen Time and Mental Health

Doesn't it seem like your mental health might deteriorate if you spend your time simply gazing at screens on phones or computers? Or, on the flip side, doesn't it seem likely that people with poor mental health would spend all day looking at screens? It's a reasonable guess. In fact, many studies are investigating the connection between excessive use of mobile phones or the internet and mental illness, and some studies have reported a significant association between the two. However, most of these were cross-sectional studies, which only looked at one aspect and made assumptions about the relationship between them.

In 2021, Clinical Psychology Review published a systematic literature review of studies that observed the relationship between screen time and mental health over a longer period. Let's examine the results one by one.

The Relationship Between Screen Time and Symptoms of Depression

  • There are studies reporting a correlation between long screen time and symptoms of depression. However, the degree was slight, and the correlation was greatly influenced by gender, physical activity, BMI, etc.
  • The claim that depressive symptoms lead to increased screen time has limited evidence.
  • The relationship between screen time and depressive symptoms varied slightly depending on the type of device used. Claims that depressive symptoms increase with longer screen times through television and video games lack evidence. On the other hand, longer screen time through mobile phones or computer internet had relatively stronger evidence suggesting higher depressive symptoms.

The Relationship Between Screen Time and Anxiety Symptoms

  • There are studies that report increased anxiety with longer screen time.
  • However, the claim that anxiety leads to increased screen time had mixed results in studies.
  • Considering the type of device used, the relationship between screen time and anxiety was not well-supported by evidence.

The Relationship Between Screen Time and Self-esteem

  • Research investigating the relationship between screen time and self-esteem was somewhat scarce.
  • Overall, there was little to no significant relationship between the two.
  • Some studies reported that individuals with higher self-esteem had higher internet usage through computers, lower video game usage, and no significant change in mobile phone usage.

The results show that most evidence is lacking, non-existent, or the findings are inconsistent. The consolidated study results are: "Among young people, the relationship between screen time and mental health problems is negligible or small."

Of course, the researcher concludes that more research is needed, so this is not an absolute truth. However, considering the research results, let's not beat ourselves up and think, "I can't make it," just because we use our phones frequently. While there may be problems at the level of addiction, it's unlikely to be a significant mental health issue if it's not to that extent.

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