Last updated:

February 27, 2024


 min read

The Digital Daze: Navigating the connection between screen time and Depression

Unravel the impact of screen time on depression and discover strategies for fostering a healthier digital lifestyle with Rocket Health's expert guidance. Learn how to balance screen time for better mental well-being!


In today's digital era, screens are everywhere - from the smartphones in our pockets to the computers at our desks. As our time spent glued to these devices skyrockets, it's becoming increasingly important to explore how this affects our wellbeing. Can hours spent scrolling, clicking, and watching contribute to feelings of depression? This article delves into the relationship between screen time and depression, aiming to unravel the effects and suggest ways to foster a healthier interaction with our screens for better mental health.

Understanding Screen time

Screen time refers to any time spent in front of a screen, be it a smartphone, tablet, computer, or television. This aspect of our daily lives can be divided into two main categories: productive and recreational screen time. Productive screen time includes activities related to work or study, while recreational screen time is all about entertainment, such as scrolling through social media, watching videos, reading e-materials or playing video games. Understanding this distinction is crucial in the context of its impact on mental health.

Today, screen time usage has skyrocketed, with the average adult spending over 11 hours per day in front of screens, and children and teenagers not far behind. A significant portion of this time can be attributed to the increase in remote work and digital learning. With smartphones becoming more of a necessity than a luxury, the boundaries of when and where digital devices can be used have blurred, contributing to this surge in screen time.

Psychological Effects of Excessive Screen Time

Impact on social skills and relationships

Prolonged screen time can significantly affect one's social skills and relationships. As digital communication replaces in-person interactions, individuals might find it challenging to develop and maintain strong interpersonal relationships. The lack of face-to-face communication can lead to misunderstandings and weakened emotional bonds.

Effects on self-esteem and body image

Digital platforms, especially social media, are often laden with idealised representations of life and body standards. Constant exposure to such content can distort self-perception, leading to negative body image and lowered self-esteem among users. This is particularly prevalent among teenagers and young adults, who are at a developmental stage where peer approval is crucial.

Disrupted sleep patterns

Excessive screen time before bed can lead to disrupted sleep patterns. The blue light emitted from screens suppresses melatonin production, making it harder to fall asleep. Poor sleep not only affects physical health but is also a significant risk factor for developing depression. Establishing a digital curfew an hour before bedtime can help mitigate these effects and improve overall mental well-being.


Understanding Depression

Depression is a common but serious mood disorder that significantly affects how an individual feels, thinks, and handles daily activities. Symptoms can range from persistent sadness, loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, changes in appetite, trouble sleeping, increased fatigue, to thoughts of death or suicide. These symptoms must last for at least two weeks for a diagnosis of depression to be considered.

Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States and around the globe. The World Health Organization estimates that depression affects over 264 million people worldwide, cutting across all ages but is more prevalent among adults, particularly those in high-stress environments. The rising rate of depression among teenagers and young adults is particularly alarming, coinciding with increased screen time and digital device usage.

Exploring the Link Between Screen Time and Depression

The influence of digital devices on our mental health cannot be overstated. As we navigate through the effects of prolonged screen time, it becomes apparent that not all screen time is created equal.

Comparison of passive and active screen time

Passive screen time, such as mindlessly scrolling through social media or binge-watching series, has been linked to increased feelings of depression and anxiety. On the other hand, active screen time, which involves engaging activities like learning new skills or interacting positively with others online, watching movies to spend leisure time, can have neutral or sometimes beneficial effects. The key difference lies in how we use our devices and the intention behind our screen time.

Influence of social media on mental health

Social media platforms, while designed to connect us, often lead to the opposite effect, fostering feelings of isolation and inadequacy. The constant exposure to curated highlights of others' lives can skew our perception of reality, leading to decreased self-esteem and increased depressive symptoms.

The role of cyberbullying

Cyberbullying has emerged as a significant concern in the digital age, with the anonymity of the internet providing a fertile ground for negative behaviors . Victims of cyberbullying are at a higher risk for depression, anxiety, and in extreme cases, suicidal thoughts, showcasing the profound impact digital environments can have on mental health.

Several research studies have highlighted a concerning link between screen time and depression. For instance, a study published in the Journal of Preventive Medicine Reports found that adolescents who spent more than three hours per day on social media were at a higher risk of reporting high levels of depressive symptoms. Similarly, research from the University of San Diego pointed out that teens who spend five or more hours per day on their devices are 71% more likely to have one risk factor for suicide, compared to those who spend less than an hour a day. These studies underscore the need for a closer examination of our screen habits. Another study Lin et. al., highlighted that young adults using social media extensively, show signs of increased loneliness and depression, suggesting a dose-response relationship where more screen time equals greater unhappiness.


Strategies for Balancing Screen Time and Mental Well-being

In light of these challenges, establishing a healthy relationship with our digital devices is crucial.

Setting healthy limits and boundaries

Creating and adhering to specific limits for screen time can significantly improve mental well-being. This includes designating screen-free times, such as during meals or before bedtime, to ensure that digital devices do not interfere with our essential human needs for rest and in-person interaction.

Engaging in offline activities

Prioritizing offline activities that promote mental and physical health is vital. Activities like reading, exercising, or spending time in nature can boost mood, enhance creativity, and reduce symptoms of depression, providing a healthy balance to the digital aspects of our lives.

Utilizing screen time for positive purposes

Transforming screen time into an opportunity for positive engagement can mitigate its negative effects. This can be achieved by consuming uplifting content, watching movies with limited time as leisure activities,  participating in online communities that support personal growth, or using educational apps to acquire new knowledge and skills.

Seeking Professional Help for Screen Time and Depression

The importance of recognizing warning signs

It's crucial to understand when screen time is no longer a harmless part of your daily routine but a contributing factor to feelings of sadness, loneliness, or depression. Recognizing warning signs is the first step toward making a positive change. These signs can include decreased interest in social activities, changes in sleep patterns, and an increase in irritability or sadness after prolonged use of digital devices. Acknowledging these symptoms early can lead to more effective management and treatment.

Therapeutic interventions and treatments

Once the connection between screen time and depression has been identified, various therapeutic interventions can offer relief and help manage symptoms. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is particularly effective, focusing on altering negative thought patterns about oneself and the world. Additionally, treatments might involve setting structured screen time limits, incorporating more physical activity into daily routines, or using apps designed to reduce screen time. In some cases, medication may also be prescribed if depression is severe. The key is to find a balance and strategies that work for you, under the guidance of a mental health professional.

Timely intervention is essential for preventing more severe mental health issues. A professional can provide the necessary support and strategies for managing screen time use and addressing underlying problems, such as depression or anxiety. Intervention may require scheduling appointments and physically attending sessions, which can be time-consuming and challenging to fit into a busy schedule. That’s where online consultation at Rocket Health comes in.

Rocket Health is an innovative online therapy platform that aims to help individuals struggling with increased screen time and depression. With its user-friendly interface and individualised approach, Rocket Health offers personalized strategies to reduce screen time and improve overall mental health. Rocket Health eliminates these barriers by making therapy accessible from the comfort of your own home. This means that you can receive the help you need, no matter where you are or what time of day it is.


Twenge, j. M., & Campbell, w. K. (2018). Associations between screen time and lower psychological well-being among children and adolescents: evidence from a population-based study. Preventive medicine reports, 12, 271–283. Https://

Lin, l. Y., Sidani, j. E., Shensa, a., Radovic, a., Miller, e., Colditz, j. B., Hoffman, b. L., Giles, l. M., & Primack, b. A. (2016). Association between social media use and depression among U.S. Young adults. Depression and Anxiety, 33(4), 323–331.