Screen time could have impact on declining mental health among students


Published November 26, 2020 at 1:08 am


Even before the onset of the pandemic, students were experiencing the highest levels of suicidal ideation and serious psychological distress ever recorded according to a report from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

According to the findings, 16 per cent of students expressed experiencing serious thoughts about suicide during the months leading up to the survey.

Additionally, 21 per cent of students reported feeling serious psychological distress—a percentage that’s almost twice as high as the number from just six years ago.

“As concerning as these numbers are, they likely underestimate the degree of suicidal ideation and psychological distress currently experienced by Ontario students, because all the survey data predate the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hayley Hamilton, a senior scientist with CAMH’s Institute for Mental Health Policy Research, said in a news release.

“These data reinforce the urgent need to provide mental health supports to this cohort during this difficult time,” she continued.

Further, while the number of students experiencing poor mental health is on the rise, so too is the number of students whose mental health needs are not being met.

Based on the findings, more than one-third of students said there was a time when they wanted to speak to someone about a mental health problem, but they didn’t know who to contact.

Over the last six years, the number of students who report that their mental health needs are not being met has increased from 28 per cent to 35 per cent.

One possible connection between this trend over the last six years has been the increase in students’ average weekly screen time, coupled with a decrease in their physical activity.

Over the last six years, the number of students who spend five or more hours per day looking at screens has ballooned to 21 per cent—nearly double the amount.

Moreover, only 21 per cent of students are meeting the guidelines for the recommended amount of daily exercise.

However, the catalyst could be a lack of sleep.

The majority of students—63 per cent—are getting fewer than eight hours of sleep per night on school nights.

“We have seen serious increases in screen time among students in recent years, as well as decreases in sleep,” Tara Elton-Marshall, an independent scientist with the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research, said in the same release.

“There are real concerns about the implications of excessive amounts of time spent on social media especially during the current pandemic when Canadian youth are even more engaged with screens.  It is important to consider ways to reduce recreational screen time and engage in alternate activities to boost well-being,” she continued.

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