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 Table of Contents  
ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Year : 2022  |  Volume : 38  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 26-31

Screen time and mental well-being of students during the COVID-19 pandemic: Findings from a survey among medical and engineering students


Department of Psychiatry and National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, India

Date of Submission14-Dec-2021
Date of Acceptance08-Jan-2022
Date of Web Publication30-Mar-2022

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Yatan Pal Singh Balhara
Department of Psychiatry and National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi
India
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/ijsp.ijsp_365_21

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  Abstract 


Background and Objectives: Concerns have been expressed about the possible adverse impact of increased screen time on the psychological well-being of students during the COVID-19 pandemic. The current study aimed to assess the relationship between screen time and mental well-being among college students. Methods: This cross-sectional online survey-based study was conducted among Indian college students. Details regarding sociodemographics and the amount and pattern of screen time usage and mental well-being (assessed using World Health Organization Well-Being Index; 5) were collected. Furthermore, personality traits were assessed using a validated questionnaire. Results: The final study sample comprised of 731 medical and engineering undergraduate students with a mean age of 20.7 years. The total screen time across different devices among the study participants for both weekdays and weekends was comparable, with a median value of 540 min. Poor mental well-being was significantly associated with higher total screen time (P = 0.03). Furthermore, screen time use predominantly to access social media for noncommunication purposes was associated with significantly lower mental well-being scores (P = 0.03). Conclusions: The current study highlights the impact of screen time on the mental well-being of students. The higher total screen time use was associated with poor mental well-being. Various types of screen time could have a differential relation with the mental well-being of students. Increased screen time use predominantly to access social media for noncommunication purposes was associated with a higher risk of poor mental well-being.

Keywords: COVID-19, mental health, screen time, students


How to cite this article:
Ganesh R, Singh S, Bhargava R, Balhara YP. Screen time and mental well-being of students during the COVID-19 pandemic: Findings from a survey among medical and engineering students. Indian J Soc Psychiatry 2022;38:26-31

How to cite this URL:
Ganesh R, Singh S, Bhargava R, Balhara YP. Screen time and mental well-being of students during the COVID-19 pandemic: Findings from a survey among medical and engineering students. Indian J Soc Psychiatry [serial online] 2022 [cited 2022 May 25];38:26-31. Available from: https://www.indjsp.org/text.asp?2022/38/1/26/341336




  Introduction Top


Over the past year, the on-campus academic activities were suspended and a majority of educational institutes in India shifted to online teaching. Furthermore, there was an increase in the use of online platforms,[1] and digital gaming among students.[2] Global statistics indicated increased time spent by people on smartphones, laptops, desktops, television, and gaming consoles in the year 2020.[3] This increase in the screen time among students coupled with other changes in lifestyle such as decreased physical activity could adversely impact the well-being of students.

Published reports on the impact of screen time on well-being have suggested both beneficial as well as detrimental effects of the increased screen time. Some studies have reported an association between screen time and poor well-being.[4],[5] In a population-based study among children and adolescents, screen time of more than 4 h was directly related to the risk of developing depression.[6] On the contrary, few studies have also reported a beneficial effect of screen time [7],[8] and suggested that in today's connected world, moderate use of digital technology may be advantageous.[9] It is likely that the nature of the screen time, besides the absolute screen time, is an important determinant of the outcome. However, there is limited literature that has explored the differential effect of educational and recreational screen time on the mental well-being of students.[10]

The current study aimed to assess the relationship between screen time and mental well-being among students. We also attempted to explore the impact of educational and recreational screen time on the mental well-being of students.


  Methods Top


Study design and participants

This cross-sectional study was conducted among college students in India. The data were collected over 4 months, from June 1, 2020 to September 30, 2020. The online survey questionnaire was shared through personal and social contacts of researchers through email and social media groups. The participants were also encouraged to share the survey link with their eligible contacts. The inclusion criteria were that participants should be enrolled in an undergraduate course and should be at least 18 years of age at the time of participation in the study. Informed consent was obtained from participants at the start of the survey using the online survey platform. The participants were free to leave the survey questionnaire at any time before submission and their responses would not be recorded. The participants were requested to only fill in the form once to prevent duplication in the study sample. The study protocol was approved by the Institute Ethics Committee of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi.

Study questionnaire

The study questionnaire consisted of a semi-structured questionnaire used for collecting sociodemographic details; assessment of screen time was done based on self-report by participants regarding the time spent by them using or viewing any digital device with a screen such as watching television, smartphone use, or working on a computer or laptop; and mental being was assessed through the World Health Organization (WHO) well-being index. The 5-item Well-Being Index (WHO-5) is a short and generic global rating scale for measuring subjective well-being and has been widely used in studies conducted among the general population as well.[11] The 10 items Big Five Inventory (10) was used to assess the personality traits of the study participants. These five personality traits were measured with two questions each.[12]

Statistical analysis

The data were analyzed using SPSS version 23.0 (Armonk, NY, IBM Corp). The data were checked for normal distribution using the Kolmogorov–Smirnov and the Shapiro–Wilk tests. Mean and standard deviation (SD) was used for describing normally distributed data. Whereas, median and inter-quartile range (IQR) were used to describe variables with skewed distribution. Inferential statistics using nonparametric tests were conducted to examine the relationships between different continuous (Mann–Whitney U-test, Wilcoxon signed-rank test, Spearman correlation) and categorical (Chi-square test) study variables. The level of statistical significance was set at a two-tailed P < 0.05 for all the tests.


  Results Top


The completion rate was 0.96 (731/754). Hence, responses from 731 participants were included in the analysis. The mean age of study participants was 20.70 years (SD: 1.97). [Table 1] describes the sociodemographic variables and pattern of screen time of all the students who participated in the study.
Table 1: Profile of study participants (n=731)

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Amount and pattern of screen time

The daily total screen time across different devices among the study participants was 540 min (median value, IQR = 390.0–720.0) and 540 min (median value, IQR = 420.0–720.0) for weekdays and weekends, respectively. There was no significant difference (U = 80442.00; Z = −0.054; P = 0.95) between the cumulative weekday and cumulative weekend screen time across different devices. The median background screen time of study participants was 90 (IQR 30.0–240.0) min.

About 20.7% (n = 152) participants reported no television screen time. Around 30.6% (n = 224) reported no computer or laptop screen time. About 6.5% (48) reported only smartphone screen time, with no television or computer screen time. Among these students, a significantly higher proportion of students (χ2 = 6.15; P = 0.01) had predominant screen time use due to streaming or watching entertainment videos. Wilcoxon signed-rank test revealed significantly higher television (Z = −5.41; P < 0.001) and smartphone screen time (Z = −2.59; P = 0.01) on the weekends and significantly higher computer screen time (Z − 4.35; P < 0.001) on the weekdays among study participants.

[Table 2] describes the differences in screen time patterns for the medicine and engineering students who participated in the study. Engineering students reported more computer or laptop and television screen time, while medical students reported more smartphone screen time. Screen time for playing digital games was more among engineering students and screen time related to the educational purpose was reported more by medical students.
Table 2: Comparison of the screen time pattern among medicine and engineering students

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Male students (Median: 562.0 min; IQR: 420.0–725.0) reported significantly higher total screen time (U = 60139.50, Z= −2.32, P = 0.02) on weekends compared to female students (Median: 510 min; IQR: 387.5–720.0). Students living with family reported higher television screen time (weekdays [Median: 60 min; IQR 0.0–120.0], weekends [Median: 60 min; IQR: 15.0–172.5]) compared to students living alone and with friends [weekdays (Median: 30 min; IQR: 0–120), weekends (Median: 15 min; IQR: 0–120)]. Mann–Whitney U-testing showed significant differences for both weekdays (U = 16657.00, Z= −2.78, P = 0.005) and weekends (U = 17984.50, Z = −3.23, P = 0.001) between them. [Table 3] describes the correlation between the personality traits of the study participants and the pattern of screen time. There was a significant positive correlation between conscientiousness and computer screen time.
Table 3: Correlation between screen time and personality traits (Spearman's correlation coefficient)

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Mental well-being and its correlates

Overall, the students who participated in the study reported a median score of 52 (IQR: 36–68) on the WHO well-being index. About 46.8% (n = 342) participants scored less than 50% cut-off score on the WHO-5 well-being index (i.e., suggestive of poor mental well-being).

Participants with poor mental well-being reported higher total screen time (Weekday: 555.0 [420.0–750.0] min; weekend: 555.0 [420.0–720.0] min) compared to others (Weekday: 510.0 [387.5–720.0] min; weekend: 510.0 [367.5–705.0] min). Mann–Whitney U-testing showed significant differences for both weekday (U = 60589.00, Z = −2.08, P = 0.03) and weekend (U = 60448.00, Z = −-2.13, P = 0.03) screen time between them. With regard to the device of use for screen time, smartphone use on the weekend (Mann–Whitney U = 59731.00, Z = −2.39, P = 0.01) was significantly higher among participants with poor mental well-being (360.0 [180.0–485.0] min) compared to others (300 [180–480] min). Students whose predominant screen time use was reportedly due to social media use for noncommunication purpose had a significantly lower mental well-being score as compared to those who did not report such use (U = 40615.50, Z = −2.14, P = 0.03).


  Discussion Top


The current study was conducted to assess the relationship between the amount and pattern of screen time use among students and their mental well-being. Students with poor mental well-being had significantly higher total screen time in the current study. There have been concerns expressed about the negative impact of increased screen time on the psychological well-being of children and adolescents even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.[13] A population-based study in a western setting suggested that more hours of daily screen time were associated with greater distractibility, lesser self-control, and inability to finish tasks, leading to lower psychological well-being.[6] They also suggested that among young adults, high users of screen time (seven-plus hours per day) were more likely to be diagnosed with depression compared to low users (one hour per day) of screen time.[6] Another study conducted among college students from China concluded that the screen time increments had a consistent, although small, effect on mental health problems and their progression.[14] A recent study from India among medical students also reported a significant negative effect of increased screen time during the lockdown on aspects of mental health, sleep pattern, overall well-being, and academic activities.[15] Further, a 10-year longitudinal study of 630 participants found that screen-based sedentary behaviors among young adults have a high propensity to continue into adulthood.[16] Thus, there is a need to further assess the potential negative impact of screen time on young and adolescent students and guide the development of interventions aimed at prevention and mitigation of any harms associated with increased screen time during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the postpandemic era.

However, there is a need to explore the finer nuances of this relation between screen time and mental well-being, as the nature of screen time is a likely to moderate and/or mediate the impact of the screen time on the overall outcomes including mental well-being. Recent studies have shown that active screen time was associated with positive effects, while passive screen time was associated with negative effects on cognitive, psychological, and physical development.[17] It has been proposed that moderate screen time could be beneficial for young people as it offers them opportunities to establish new social connections, strengthen the existing relationships, support academics, and access information on various issues.[18] In the current study as well, only the use of social media for noncommunication purposes was associated with a significantly lower mental well-being score. The other types of screen time were not found to have a significant relationship with the mental well-being scores.

There have been concerns expressed about the possible impact of online academic activities on the psychological well-being of the students in the country.[10] The current study did not find any significant relationship between educational screen time and mental well-being. There is limited published literature on the impact of type of screen time on health, academic, and interpersonal outcomes. A study among Australian school students reported educational screen time was associated with positive educational outcomes and had no negative relationship with any other study outcomes. This was unlike the passive screen time that was associated with worse outcomes.[19] Besides the type of screen time, the device used could also have a variable relationship with mental well-being. Smartphone screen time on the weekend was significantly higher in students with poor mental well-being in the current study. Furthermore, among the students with only smartphone use related screen time, a significantly higher proportion of students had predominant screen time due to streaming or watching entertainment videos. Streaming or watching entertainment videos adds to the sedentary screen time. Excessive screen time might displace some important protective behaviors for mental health. Many studies have shown that high screen time is inversely related to physical activity. Furthermore, during the COVID-19 pandemic, physical inactivity was found to have an association with mental health problems such as anxiety and depression in people.[20] However, few studies have established that screen time and physical inactivity are independently associated with mental health among the youth. Future studies with longitudinal study design are needed to establish the cause-effect relationship between screen time and mental well-being.

Since the on-campus life was suspended to control the spread of COVID-19, the academic, co-curricular, and social pursuits of the students were hampered for more than a year. College is not only a center of education for students; it is also an important vista for students' social life. More than two-thirds of the students in the current study reported predominant screen time use for communicating with friends and family members. However, students using social media are at risk of being repeatedly exposed to information from news, conversations, posts throughout the day through automatic push messages, pop-up notifications, or personalized news feeds on their social media accounts. Frequent checking or reading about the rising number of new COIVD-19 cases or deaths daily or about the risk of developing newer, more infectious variants of the virus could contribute toward increased psychological distress experienced by students. Further, the risk of misinformation being transmitted through digital platforms (also known as infodemic) has been a major concern throughout the current pandemic. This misinformation can also contribute to undue stress. A recent study reported that frequent social media exposure during the COVID-19 pandemic was associated with increased odds of suffering from depression and anxiety.[21]

The current study adds to the limited literature available on the effect of screen time on the psychological well-being of students during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the results should be interpreted in light of certain limitations. The study was prone to selection bias as it was conducted in a convenience sample of undergraduate college students through an online survey strategy. The information obtained was based solely on self-report by participants and is prone to recall bias. Furthermore, due to the cross-sectional study design, the directionality or temporality of the associations between screen time and well-being could not be assessed. While the increased screen time could have contributed to the impaired mental well-being, the increase in a particular type of screen time could also have been a result of the poor mental well-being. Longitudinal studies in a representative sample with data collection at multiple different time points shall help address these limitations in the future.


  Conclusions Top


The current study highlights the impact of screen time on the mental well-being of students. The higher total screen time use was associated with poor mental well-being. Various types of screen time could have a differential relation with the mental well-being of students. Increased screen time use predominantly to access social media for noncommunication purposes was associated with a higher risk of poor mental well-being.

Acknowledgment

We would like to thank Dr Dheeraj Kattula, Dr Bandita Abhijita, Dr Amulya Gupta, and Dr Abhinav Gupta for their assistance in collection of data.

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.



 
  References Top

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This paper has won the BB Sethi Award at the XXVIII National Conference of Indian Association for Social Psychiatry, Imphal, 26-28 November 2021.



 
 
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