Screen time and mental health

Age-related mental health outcomes: children and adolescents
Age-related mental health outcomes: Adults
Screen time and mental health in the COVID-19 era
More information

Screen time refers to the time a person spends watching a device such as a TV, smartphone, computer, or game console. Numerous screen weather and mental health studies have been performed, including longitudinal studies. There was a lot of attention, especially on how children and adolescents were affected. The results are conflicting, with many studies finding negative effects on mental health from the use of screens such as depression, anxiety and brain fog. Some of the more positive results include creativity, increased well-being and increased psychosocial effects from the use of social media by adults.

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Age-related mental health outcomes: children and adolescents

Mental health problems affect 10-20% of young people worldwide, and late adolescence is a problematic age for the onset of these problems. This is the age when young people move from childhood to adulthood, and moving to college and university can be a challenge for many.

In recent years, the use of electronic devices has increased dramatically among young people. Meanwhile, the mental well-being of adolescents has declined dramatically. Excessive time in front of the screen appears to be a behavior that can affect mental health. Recent studies have found that many adolescents regularly disregard the recommended guidelines for screen time, which is widely recommended to be limited to two hours per day.

Studies show that increasing screen time is associated with negative self-esteem and an increased risk of obesity. Not surprisingly, the increasing spread of time in front of the screen is associated with insufficient levels of physical activity. This has reduced the time spent outdoors in contact with nature. In other words, screen time has replaced “green time.”

The use of screens by adolescents is negatively associated with poor mental health due to the following factors:

  • Compulsive use of the Internet – when users cannot regulate how much time they spend accessing the Internet

Screen Time: Is It Really All Bad? | Florence Breslin | TEDxTysons

Any discussion of the negative effects of technology must be counterbalanced with debate about the positives. After all, the use of screens is frequently used for educational purposes. Besides this, research has shown that leisure time in front of the screen may encourage wellbeing in what is becoming an increasingly connected world.

Age-related mental health outcomes: Adults

The associations between increased screen-based activities and physical activity have also been examined in adults. In this context, screen time has been designated a marker of sedentary time. As well as obesity, increasing sedentary time is associated with type 2 diabetes. The effects on mental health are much harder to ascertain.

The link between physical health is important to triangulate with mental health and screen time. Studies have indicated that reducing screen time while increasing physical activity could be highly beneficial, especially in men. Of course, this may not always be possible in this increasingly high-tech world.

Many people are dependent upon technology at work. Imagine working in IT without a computer. Then again, there are positives here when it comes to work-life balance. The integral use of technology to earn a living enables many people to work remotely or from home. According to data from the Office for National Statistics from 2019, 53% of employees in the information and communication industry have taken advantage of homeworking, whereas only 10% of those working in the accommodation and food services industry have been able to do so.

Screen time and mental health in the COVID-19 era

When a global pandemic was declared in March 2020, the UK government put the population into a lockdown to drastically slow the transmission of the virus. The stay-at-home guidance issued to citizens at that time permitted them to leave home only for the essential purposes of shopping, healthcare, and a limited amount of physical exercise (30 minutes per day).

Image Credit: Cristian Dina/

Image Credit: Cristian Dina/

The impact of this imposed guidance on self-isolation has been investigated due to the increased incidence of screen time and thus effects on mental health and wellbeing. Overindulgence and overuse of digital devices have been shown to have a detrimental effect. But there is a lot to be said for a balanced approach. During periods of lockdown, using digital technologies was the only way for many people to remain socio-emotionally connected.

In conclusion, the positives and negatives of screen time are a source of ongoing debate. Overindulgence may lead to negative mental ill health effects.


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  • Office for National Statistics (2020) Technology intensity and homework in the United Kingdom. Online:
  • Oswald, TK et al. (2020) Psychological impacts of screen time and green time for children and adolescents: A systematic review of the scope. PLOS One. Doi: 10.1371 / journal.pone.0237725
  • Smith, L., (2020) The relationship between screen time and mental health during COVID-19: A cross-sectional study. Psychiatric research. doi: 10.1016 / j.psychres.2020.113333.
  • Wu, X. et al. (2016) Influence of screen time on the progression of mental health problems in adolescents: a 1-year follow-up study. BMJ Open. Doi: 10.1136 / bmjopen-2016-011533.

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