Study: Limiting screen time to 30 minutes a day can reduce depression, loneliness

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ST. GEORGE — A recent study has found that limiting social media use to around 30 minutes per day can reduce loneliness and depression and improve personal well-being.

The study was performed by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, in which 143 undergraduates aged 18-22 were randomly placed into one of two control groups for three weeks, the first limited their time using Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram to no more than 30 minutes per day, or 10 minutes per platform, while the other group used their social media accounts as usual.

At the start of the study, participants were surveyed to determine their mood and well-being and shared a week’s worth of screenshots of their iPhone battery levels to help determine their typical use. Throughout the three weeks, they would send in additional battery level screenshots for researchers to tally. After the three weeks were up, participants were again surveyed and asked questions about their mental state.

At the end of the survey, those who limited their time on social media showed a significant decrease in depression and loneliness overall. This was especially pronounced for those who were more depressed at the beginning of the study.

EJ Olschewski, the lead therapist at the Intermountain McKay Dee’s Adolescent Behavioral Health Unit in Ogden, has seen firsthand the effects that social media can have on mental health.

I think it’s having a great impact on people’s mental health across all ages, and while they think they’re connecting through it, in fact, it’s decreasing connection and therefore increasing isolation and depression,” she said.

Social media can cause depression for a variety of reasons. One has to do with people comparing their lives to those of others, which are oftentimes seemingly perfect on social media, and feeling inadequate.

This comparison factor is what makes social media more dangerous than other media platforms because while media like television and video games can cause isolation, they aren’t as detrimental to a person’s self-esteem.

“They both have their own dangerous components but one just creates isolation, while the other creates poor self-esteem and comparison issues that then create isolation in my opinion,” Olschewski said.

According to a study performed by Brian Primack of the University of Pittsburgh, young adults who use social media more often and check it more times throughout the day are actually three times more likely to feel socially isolated from others than those who spend less time using social media.

Another factor has to do with a lack of true connection with other people, Olschewski said. Social media can often make others feel as though they are engaging with other people through the platform, though they are lacking the physical connection that humans need. And even when people are connecting face-to-face, many of them are still focusing on their phones rather than the person that they are with.

“Social media is meant to connect people but for whatever reason it creates this false connection where you feel like you’re engaged in their life but you’re really not,” Olschewski said.

The average teen spent nine hours using entertainment media per day in 2015, not including the time spent using media for school or homework, according to Common Sense Media. That included television and movies, online videos, gaming, social media, internet browsing, music and reading.

Part of the reason people spend so much time on their phones is because of its addictive nature, Olschewski said.

Research has shown that receiving notifications on a smartphone can cause the brain to release dopamine, a chemical in the brain associated with feelings of pleasure and reward, which plays a part in addiction.

Setting limits on social media and smartphone use can help to reduce the likelihood of addiction and can benefit mental health overall, she said.

In some ways, social media can actually benefit mental health too, research says. According to an article published in the American Academy of Pediatrics, in addition to the risks associated with social media, it can actually benefit people by allowing them to stay connected with distant friends and family, exchange ideas, find opportunities for community engagement and access to support groups.

“I do believe there can be a benefit to it. I think the benefit is in the moderation and the transparency,” Olschewski said.

Even with the potential benefits of using social media, Olschewski recommends that parents limit their teen’s time on their phone to two hours per day outside of school and that they limit their own time using the platforms both to set an example for their kids and to benefit their own mental health.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews | @MikaylaShoup

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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