Screens, The Internet and Your Mental Health

How Does Screen Time/Time Online Relate to My Mental Health?

There has been much debate about the impact of ‘screen-time’ on our mental health in recent times. Studies tend to show that while the amount of time we spend looking at screens does not impact our mental health per se, there is a relationship between our time using screens and our mental health. This is more likely to be for two reasons:

  • People who are struggling with their mental health might use screens or devices more.
  • There might be a link between what we do during our screen time (rather than the length of time itself) and our mental health.

If we are struggling with our mental health, there are many reasons why we might spend more time online or using devices with screens. Stigma is still a big problem around mental health in Ireland, so sometimes we might not feel comfortable being around other people when our mental health isn’t great, and so we might spend our free time at home by ourselves, and devices with screens are some of the most common ways we spend our alone time, whether we are watching tv, scrolling social media or interacting with others online. Not all of this can be unhealthy – many people report using the internet to find help and support, or to make friends with people who understand and don’t judge them.

This links with the second reason that screens might relate to our mental health – as we mentioned, it isn’t that we are looking at a screen for a long time, but rather what we are doing while we are looking at a screen. For example, during COVID-19, many of us have been reliant on our screens to connect with loved ones that we can’t be with, to work and to study, and sometimes even to distract us from the world for a while.

Have you ever found yourself continually scrolling on a site without paying attention to what’s on the screen? Or maybe you find yourself feeling like you don’t measure up to the brilliant lives of everyone posting their photos and posts online? This is where the risk to our mental health can come in. It’s important to remember that the online world is not the real world. We can connect with people, but people tend to only post their best, often-filtered lives online. Comparing ourselves to others online can heighten our insecurities and make us feel less confident about ourselves. Similarly, it can be tempting to have the news on tv all the time. The news channels tend to report more of the bad things that are happening in the world, so it can sometimes feel like there is no good things happening if we are watching the news all day, or if we are getting lots of push notifications about things.

How Can I Reduce the Risk Around My Online/Screen Time?

Being online and using screens is just part of modern life, and as we outlined above, it can have many positive impacts on our everyday lives. However, there are some things we can do to help mind or protect our mental health while we are online:

  • Try and balance your time in front of a screen with some time away from them. Take a walk, take a day off from social media.
  • Think about what you are doing when you’re online. Are you engaging with things, or just mindlessly scrolling? This can be nice to do to switch our brains off sometimes, but it can become an easy distraction from other things we should be doing.
  • Be mindful of who you interact with online. Trolls can incite strong feelings in people, but at the end of the day, they probably aren’t going to listen to your argument, and trying to engage with them can feel very frustrating and stressful, and can sometimes lead to bullying from the troll.
  • Try and limit your exposure to stressful things like the news, and places where people post often unrealistic portrayals of their lives. Choose a particular time and dependable source to catch up on the news if you feel you need to and consider who you follow on social media – if they make you feel bad, think about unfollowing them.
  • Check the amount of time you’ve been using your devices – most devices will show you a breakdown of your activity and time spent on each. It can be a bit of a surprise how much time we’ve been spending on some apps!

There’s lots more information and support available if you need it.

Mental health

  • If you feel like you’re using gambling to numb your emotions because of stress, contact your college counselling services to arrange an appointment to talk to someone
  • For useful resources on your mental health go to the ‘Mind Your Mental Health’ on usi.ie
  • HSE’s yourmentalhealth.ie has specific advice on how to mind your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak
  • If you feel you are at risk of suicide during the pandemic, call 999/112 or present to the nearest Accident and Emergency Department
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