Screen Time And Worsening Mental Health – Is There A Link?


Being at home with nowhere to go has left many feeling bored, unmotivated and sluggish. Across the UK an alarming number of people have reported brain fog, extreme fatigue and demotivation with these symptoms only getting worse the longer that they spend indoors, working from their computers instead of in person. 

While working from home,  we have seen ourselves turning to our screens more and more, and it may be taking more of a toll on our mental health than we think. 

This  2017 study has found that adults who watch TV or use a computer for more than 6 hours per day are more likely to experience moderate to severe depression, so it is no wonder that people are finding themselves being affected.

In July 2019, another study was published by JAMA Paediatrics which showed an association between depression and screen time in adolescents, finding that the use of social media and television may enhance symptoms of depression in young people. 

So why are we so glued to our devices, and what can we do to help ourselves and our clients from the pitfalls of relying on them too much? 

Computer, Pc, Workplace, Home Office, Desktop Computer

Working From Home

A recent study commissioned by Bayfield’s Opticians and Audiologists found that people in lockdown have spent an average of three hours and twelve minutes each week on meeting tools such as Skype, Zoom and Microsoft Teams for work purposes – a 120% increase compared to the hours spent before lockdown. 

Among these hours online, people are also straining themselves to cope with the overwhelming information that is being constantly funnelled through to them through their devices. Bayfield’s study also mentions that it takes employees working from home an average of 47 minutes to get physically and emotionally prepared to use tools such as zoom, and have a hard time reconnecting into “work mode”, with 1 in 10 people taking at least 30 minutes before feeling productive again. 

This struggle to focus doesn’t begin once the meetings end, however, as 44% of people in this study noted struggles to keep up with the conversations during zoom meetings when there are too many people taking part.

The fatigue that people are experiencing now as they work from home and online is in part due to brain fog brought on by stress, lack of variation in people’s days, and lack of sleep, but also their devices. Bayfield’s study shows that 54% of Brits have experienced symptoms such as insomnia, headaches, eye strain and anxiety due to the increased use of technology in their daily lives.

silver iphone 6 on brown wooden table

Uncertain times

The uncertainty of the pandemic has left many staring at their screens trying to understand the world around them and gain their footing in a time where the rules are constantly changing before their eyes. 

The stress of the sudden changes alone are enough to put a strain on mental health, but as numbers and information, most of it negative, are being pushed out constantly on the news and social media, it is hard not to be sucked in by the flashing headlines and the terrifying statistics.

A study conducted by the Pew Research Center, it was found that 31% of people interviewed considered themselves to be “permanently online” – a rise from their 2015 research, which showed only 20% felt they were “permanently” online prior.  

Joanna Shurety, Wellbeing Coach at Shurety Wellbeing told Private Practice Hub that since the pandemic, she noticed a severe change in her attitude towards her screen time: 

“At the start of lockdown I was pretty obsessed with my phone – looking for news updates and changes.  I watched every episode of the news and would check social media prior to going to sleep.  Within about 3 weeks my sleep started to really suffer.  I would lie awake thinking and worrying and not being able to switch off.”

The study commissioned by Bayfield, mentioned above shows that it takes people on average 37 minutes to switch off when they have concluded their work from home, 1 in 10 people taking as long as an hour to disconnect from it all.  This combined with the constant anxiety and growing dependency on our screens for all of our information, connection to the outside world and emotional support could see a huge rise in sleep deprivation, which is linked to depression.

“An interesting insight that I have seen in many, even those not ‘working’ late at night, is the level of stress in the run-up to bedtime, rather than the body relaxing and slowing down.  What they are engaging in is actually the major issue with this – screens/ social media/ articles they are reading/ gaming late at night – all activities which have shown to raise their stress levels close to bedtime rather than winding the body down ready for bedtime.” 

Dr. Zlatin Ivanov, New York-based psychiatrist offers further insight on this line of thought. He tells

Smartphones have blue light that is emitting from the screen, which is tricky and damaging if you do that at night time, because it may trick your brain into the belief that it is still daytime.” 

When you are struggling to come down from this state of being constantly “switched-on” and available in these stressful times, it becomes even harder for our minds and our bodies to relax and process what is happening to us naturally. So what can we do to help ourselves and our clients? 

3 Changes we can make today: 

  • Start wearing blue-light protective glasses while we work – A study conducted in partnership with Aston University Optometry School found that wearing blue light-blocking glasses helps filter blue light, thereby increasing melatonin and helping you sleep better.
  • Imposing a ban on screens a few hours before bed – Both Ivanov and Shurety both recommend winding down to bed by taking part in an activity that doesn’t involve checking social media, or looking at a screen at all, for the same reasons listed above.
  • Schedule your days to include a physical activity — Dr. Johannes Hatem, Founder of Mindler UK tells Private Practice Hub:       

If you’re struggling with detaching yourself from technology, try and schedule your days by planning some activities that are social and physically active. A certain amount of screen time is normal, but you always need balance in everything you do and time away from devices can help with that balance.

Screens have been imperative in dealing with life since lockdown, but do have their negative sides. What we have learned over this past year is that while technology is an incredible and invaluable resource, like everything, it is better in moderation. 

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Article written by Maisie Violet Wicks, BA Hons, columnist for Private Practice Hub. Have something to share? Email us at