A new study shows that video games can have positive impacts on boys’ mental health. The study also found that girls who spend more time on social media have increased symptoms of depression.
Taken together, the findings show how different screen time can have either a positive or negative effect on a young person’s mental health.
Lead author, Ph.D. student Aaron Kandola (UCL Psychiatry) said: “Screens allow us to engage in a wide range of activities. Guidelines and recommendations about screen time should be based on our understanding of how these different activities might influence mental health and whether that influence is meaningful.”
The research team from UCL, Karolinska Institutet (Sweden), and the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute (Australia) reviewed data from 11,341 adolescents who are part of the Millennium Cohort Study. They conducted a survey of the opinions of a nationally representative sample of young people who have been involved in research since they were born in the UK from 2000 to 2002.
The survey measures how severe a person’s depression symptoms are but does not diagnose depression or offer medical advice. They accounted for other factors that might have explained the results. For example, they studied socioeconomic status, physical activity levels, and reports of bullying.
Boys who play video games often may experience a general improvement in mood and depression, but this is more prevalent among those with a lower level of physical activity. The research suggests that video games could provide a way for less active boys to socialize and feel enjoyment.
There are many benefits to playing video games like problem-solving and socializing. These engaging aspects seem to have a positive effect on mental well-being.
Based on the data collected, it’s difficult to say for sure why there might be a link between video games and mental health. Differences in social contact and parenting styles may have also contributed.
Researchers also did not track screen time across the day, so they cannot conclusively say that people are more likely to be depressed if they spend a lot of time on screens.
The study’s authors found that, compared to those who use social media less than once a month, girls had 13% more depressive symptoms.
Other studies have previously found that similar trends in social media use exist, and researchers have suggested that social media use could make people more likely to feel lonely. One potential explanation is that boys use social media less frequently than girls and play computer games more often.
Senior author Dr. Mats Hallgren (Karolinska Institutet) has conducted other studies on adults that show that mentally active types of screen time might not affect their risk for depression in the same way more passive types of screen time do.
Dr. Hallgren has stated, “The relationship between screen time and mental health is complex, and we still need more research to help understand it. Any initiatives to reduce young people’s screen time should be targeted and nuanced. Our research points to possible benefits of screen time; however, we should still encourage young people to be physically active and to break up extended periods of sitting with light physical activity.”
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