Link between screen time and depression? It’s complicated
A new longitudinal study looking at video gaming and social media use at age 11 compared with the same subjects’ responses to a questionnaire about depressive symptoms three years later at age 14 has come up with some complex data.
Boys who played video games daily reported fewer depressive symptoms three years later, but this difference was only significant among boys who reported less physical activity. The effect was not found among girls.
On the other hand, girls who reported using social media “most days” at age 11 reported 13% more depressive symptoms at age 14 than girls with less social media use. In general, girls use social media more and boys play video games more, so more research will be needed to sort out the gender effects of different types of internet use.
The current study did not find any other clear associations between “general” internet use and depressive symptoms by gender.
Researchers speculate that video gaming gives players enjoyment and social interaction, which they may not get in other ways, especially those who report less physical activity. Other research has found that adults who use the internet for video gaming or work do not show increased depressive symptoms in the same way that those with more passive uses may.
Physical activity is important and is regularly shown to have a deterrent effect on depression. Everyone should be getting adequate exercise and outside time as much as possible, regardless of computer and internet usage.
There is no such thing as “screen time” that will have the same effect on all types of users and all types of usage. Video gaming and social media may even have opposite effects, because of the enjoyability of the interaction or for other reasons. Also, gender appears to play a big role, both in computer use and in its effects. More research is needed in these areas.
Initiatives to reduce “screen time” should be targeted and nuanced, with all users encouraged to include physical activity and outdoor time in their daily routine.
Kandola, A., Owen, N., Dunstan, D., & Hallgren, M. (2021). Prospective relationships of adolescents’ screen-based sedentary behaviour with depressive symptoms: The Millennium Cohort Study. Psychological Medicine, 1-9. doi:10.1017/S0033291721000258