Increased screen time linked to anxiety during pandemic – Healio

June 24, 2021

2 min read


Wiciak MT, et al. Screen time use and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic in young adults (ages 18-28). Presented at World Microbe Forum; June 20-24, 2021 (virtual meeting).

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.

Increased screen time for entertainment purposes was associated with increased levels of anxiety among young adults during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data presented at the World Microbe Forum.

Michelle T. Wiciak

“This study highlights that the pandemic did not simply affect people physically, but emotionally and mentally, with various groups being impacted to a greater extent than others,” Michelle T. Wiciak, MS, a medical student at Saint James School of Medicine in the Caribbean nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, said in a press release.


Wiciak and colleagues conducted a cross-sectional international observational study from September 2020 to January 2021 that consisted of two surveys. They received responses from 183 eligible people aged 18 to 24 years, with most respondents being from Europe (n = 124) and North America (n = 42).

They used the surveys to assess three categories of screen time — entertainment, social media and educational/professional purposes — and hypothesized that increased screen use for these purposes would have different effects on mental health, such as depression, anxiety, trauma and/or fear from the pandemic.

They assessed respondents’ stress, anxiety and fear from the pandemic using a validated questionnaire, FCV-19S, and the Impact of Events Scale-Revised (IES-R) for potential PTSD based on criteria from the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Depression was assessed using the patient health questionnaire (PHQ-9), and anxiety was measured using the general anxiety disorder 7 (GAD7) questionnaire.

The authors reported that there was no significant association between depression or fear of the pandemic and screen time. However, increased levels of screen time for entertainment was associated with higher GAD7 scores (n = 175, r = 0.17). Results indicated that an increase in 1 hour of screen time for entertainment use, on average, increased GAD7 scores by 0.27 points.

The researchers also found significant increases in screen time across the three categories. Average screen time for entertainment purposes was 5.08 hours before the pandemic, but this average increased to 7.98 hours during the pandemic. Average screen time for social media was 4.59 hours before the pandemic, and it increased to 6.79 hours during the pandemic. Screen time spent for educational/professional purposes increased to 8.49 hours during the pandemic from 4.29 before the pandemic.

Of the 183 participants, 142 were full-time students. According to the authors, there was a significant difference for average screen time use for entertainment between students and nonstudents but not for either of the other categories.

“Increases and change in screen time use for entertainment pre- and during COVID-19, is associated with increased anxiety scores, which contradicts research findings,” Wiciak said during her presentation. “This can also suggest a protective factor, which may be present and unrecognized, especially due to differing populations of studies.”

According to the authors, this is a novel finding and needs to be further assessed.