How does Screen Time Affect Your Mental Health

Jessie Saalberg

Effects of screen time

How Does Screen Time Affect Your Mental Health?

How harmful is screen time to our overall mental health?

screen time health
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You are tired, and all you want to do is scroll through social media or sit back and watch your favorite movie after a tough day at work. You deserve it, right? Similar thoughts such as these have crossed my mind and other individuals worldwide. 

But how beneficial is it to us and our mental health to spend copious amounts of time online? Although it may feel good at the moment, what are the long-term implications, and how will our mental health be impacted?

As you continue reading, you will learn more about what impacts our mental health and a few helpful numbers to contact if you or a loved one find your mental health deteriorating and you just need someone to talk to about what's going on inside your head.

The History of Mental Health

What is it? And Why should I care?

Mental health is defined worldwide by professionals as “a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being.” For the longest time, when individuals would have deep feelings of sadness, anxiety, seizures, or hear things that others couldn’t hear, they were thought of as being crazy or cursed. It wasn’t until 1883 when a German psychiatrist Emil Kräpelin, after years of study, proposed that the cause of these “actions and curses” was really due to underlying psychological problems that occur chemically within the brain.

Here is an MRI scan of an individual's brain.  Image courtesy of Nature

The doctors in charge of the experiment above scanned the brains of both depressed individuals and nondepressed individuals. As you can see, the control centers that make up an individual's brain vary from person to person, depending on their overall mental health and well-being. 

Suppose you compare the different images between line a and line b. In that case, you can see that the individuals who have depressed mental well-being showed areas of the brain that are a lot wider and brighter than the control subjects or individuals who aren’t suffering from a mental illness. Most mental health diagnoses don’t require being put in an MRI machine to diagnose. But some medical professionals may use it to confirm an individual's diagnosis. 

In contrast, others may use it to study a person's brain's chemical makeup and see what makes those with similar brains behave the way that they do.

Screen Time and Your Mental Health.

How much screen time is too much screen time?

The graph shown here signifies how various modes of technology are connected with our mental well-being. -Image courtesy of Science News for Students

Although a little bit of screen time can be seen as an excellent way to help relax, the data in the above graphs show that this isn’t always the case. As you can see looking at the above data, individuals don’t spend as much time on screens on weekdays as they do on weekends.

The amount of time you spend on your mobile devices or watching television may not impact everyone in the same ways. Some may not be affected at all by the excessive use of screen time. However, for others, the amount of time they spend on screens has led physicians to discover that there are more negative effects than positive effects to excessive screen time. Some of these effects include but aren’t limited to psychological/emotional/social problems that can cause a greater risk for individuals developing depression, anxiety, or, in some cases, both. 

This impacts an individual's mental health. For example, whenever tragic events happen (such as school, office, or other public shootings), the discussion begins again about how much screen time watching these events is okay. You may see online how long you spend viewing it can impact your overall mental health and well-being.

What should I do if I notice my screen usage harms my mental health? 

Things you can do and numbers and people to contact if you need help.

If you notice that your mental health is negatively impacted by screen time, why not just turn it off and walk away? This may seem like an obvious answer to this problem, but it is easier said than done. However, some individuals will do to hold themselves accountable for the amount of screen time they spend in front of a screen by setting timers or using app timers that only allow it to be opened for so much time.

If you notice that your mental health is beginning to decline, you should reach out to someone you feel comfortable confining or seek psychological help. If your negative thoughts and feelings go too long without getting help, you risk damaging your self-esteem and overall long-term mental well-being.

However, suppose you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone you know. In that case, there are several free online services and hotlines that you can call to discuss with someone under complete anonymity how you are feeling and help you work through the thoughts running through your mind.

Some of the online and hotline numbers  you can contact for help include:

  • eTherapyPro
  • 7 Cups
  • TalkwithStranger!
  • Free Online Therapy
  • BlahTherapy
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 (available 24/7)
  • The Trevor Project 866-488-7386 (available 24/7)
  • Crisis Text Line text SUPPORT to 741-741
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness 1-800-950 6264

Caption. Image courtesy of DattMedi

Keep in mind that although spending time in front of a screen may be relaxing at times, it also has the potential to hurt us. If this is something you notice happening to you, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. Remember, you are never alone, and there are people who care and can help you and support you in your time of need.

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