Author: Macquin Anduwan
Mental health problems are a serious public health concern on the rise today . Since 2005, mental health problems, specifically depression, has increased by 18% worldwide . Several studies have shown a correlation between screen time and the increased rates of adults facing mental health problems , . Given the increased screen time usage among adults in the past few years, this may prove an area of concern that needs further attention .
Mental health diseases account for about 14% of the overall burden of disease worldwide . Depression, a major prevalent mental disorder, has been ranked by the World Health Organization as one of the most burdensome diseases in the world . Since 2000, major depression has increased from the 15th leading cause of adult disease burden, to the 11th leading cause in 2010 . Its widespread increase and burden has caused the World Health Organization in 2011 to predict its eventual rise to the number one rank by 2030 .
The question that arises now is, ‘What is the correlation of screen time and mental health disorder?’
The emergence of multiple screen types have been on the rise since the start of the twenty first century , . More and more jobs have become computer-related, and many adults now have access to some sort of screening device , . As stated by the Australian Multi-Screen Report Quarter 4 in 2015, on average over all age groups, Australians spend over 85 hours watching television (TV) and more than 31 hours online per month . That’s about 3 ½ days of screen exposure every week, and more than a day online each month! Such reports have raised concern about the influence screen exposure would have on mental health and wellbeing .
In 2017 an article looked into the relationship between television watching/computer use and depression among U.S. citizens . It showed that, of the 3,201 adults studied aged 20 years or more, depression was found to be noticeably higher among females and that results showed that moderate or severe depression levels were associated with more time spent watching TV and use of computers (>6hrs/day) . The article concluded that screen time duration can predict the depression levels among adults, which would strongly imply that there is a relationship between screen time exposure and mental health problems .
Other articles also discuss the positive link to anxiety and increased risk of sleep problems , . Since screen exposure has been commonly associated with sedentary behaviours (i.e. activities that require minimum body movement with low energy expenditure similar to that at resting level) a possible explanation of the positive link between anxiety and screen time exposure may include biological pathways such as the central nervous system arousal, sleep disturbance, or poor metabolic health due to sedentary behaviours , , . Additionally, the lack of physical activity may increase the risks of anxiety, since physical activity has been shown to reduce anxiety in children, adolescents and adults .
Normal biological sleeping mechanisms were also disturbed when screen devices were used before bedtime . A study showed that the ‘blue light’ emitted by these light-emitting electronic devices were shown to prolong the time taken to fall asleep, delay the circadian clock, suppress levels of melatonin (the sleep-promoting hormone), reduces the amount and delays REM sleep, and reduces alertness the following morning , . The use of these devices also increased alertness at night, delaying bedtime, while its use before sleep may possibly perpetuate sleep deficiency and disrupt circadian rhythms, both of which may have unfavourable impacts on health, safety, and performance .
Apart from mental health problems associated with screen time exposure, obesity and high blood pressure were also shown to be positively associated with these sedentary behaviours . Lowered self-esteem was also reported in another study, which further listed other neurological problems such as an increased incidence of addictions, slow learning and acquisition, and an increased risk of premature cognitive decline .
Given all these possible effects, many organizations have written articles online stating the dangers of prolonged screen time exposure to mental health and why screen time must be either limited or replaced with meaningful screen time uses , .
At present, there is still much data needed to properly quantify current studies , . Since most of the screen gadgets in use today have been around for less than 30 years, some researchers state that more time is needed to fully grasp the scope of their long-term influence , .
However, one thing is certain, and that is that mental health disorders are a major public health concern that must not be overlooked. There is growing awareness on the influences of screen time and its influences on mental health . In time, with the aid of government policy makers as well as non-government organisations, we may be able to lessen its burden in the world and have one less public health concern for the World Health Organization to worry about in 2030.
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