COVID-19 is increasing time spent on social media, affecting mental health, experts say

About 32% of those screened by Mental Health America chose loneliness or social isolation as one of three main contributors to their mental health concerns. (Nola Z. Valente/Community Impact Newspaper)
About 32% of those screened by Mental Health America chose loneliness or social isolation as one of three main contributors to their mental health concerns. (Nola Z. Valente/Community Impact Newspaper)

About 32% of those screened by Mental Health America chose loneliness or social isolation as one of three main contributors to their mental health concerns. (Nola Z. Valente/Community Impact Newspaper)

Americans have been spending more of their lives online since the coronavirus outbreak forced bars, restaurants and movie theatrers to close in March.

With nearly all public gatherings canceled due to the virus and with people mostly stuck indoors, individuals of all ages are seeking entertainment and ways to connect with their communities online.

Mental Health America, which has used a screening program to help identify the help-seeking population, saw a jump in the number of individuals seeking help for at least three out of seven categories, including coronavirus, loneliness or social isolation, and financial problems.

About 32% of those screened chose loneliness or social isolation as one of three main contributors to mental health concerns.

Experts spoke with Community Impact Newspaper about tips to balance media consumption and how to identify whether being connected is having a negative effect.


Biren Patel, managing physician of behavioral health at Kelsey-Seybold, recommends reading the news instead of listening to or watching it in order to help limit the amount and the type of content a person is consuming and, consequently, to ensure their mental health is not compromised by an information overload, which can sometimes be negative or untrue.

“With social media and the news, it’s a 24-hour cycle,” Patel said. “I recommend unplugging. Leave the phone behind, and take breaks for yourself and do something else. If it is a true emergency, someone will usually call or text you.”

News and social media can help people stay connected and alleviate feelings of isolation; however, they can also be used as a coping mechanism to avoid feelings of stress, said Gabriela Morgan, president of Katy-based Valentia Bilingual Therapy Services.

Although many people are encouraging engaging in more and more virtual activities, Morgan said, people do not necessarily have to live their life in front of a screen all day, every day. It is not healthy, she said, and monitoring and limiting the amount of time spent in front of a monitor or cell phone can be useful.

MHA screened 8,052 Texans in May as compared to 1,297 in January and found a 623% increase in total moderate anxiety results from April to May in Harris and Fort Bend counties.

“When we are under stress, the tendency is to try and avoid, and one of the things that we do is do things that don't let us think about the stressor or talk about it or be around someone who reminds us of it,” Morgan said. “Social media is a good way to avoid, and the more we let underlying feelings of stress simmer, [the more] it will have negative effects on mental health.”

Morgan outlined a few questions for people to ask themselves to gauge whether they are spending too much time on social media, including whether individuals are spending less time interacting with people and detrimentally affecting the ability to connect and communicate face to face and whether loved ones are complaining about excessive screen time.

Experts recommend engaging in more hobbies, such as cooking, gardening, organizing, reading books, creating art or learning a new skill, to counter the effects of being consumed by a screen.

Social media can also affect people’s perceptions, especially teenagers who generally struggle with self-esteem, communication skills and effective coping mechanisms.

“When you see people post, you see their happy times,” Morgan said. “Then, we start believing, 'Everyone is happier than me or better than me.' We can live out a story through pictures.”

It is important to keep the mind and body engaged and active as well as practicing any form of deep breathing or meditation to keep the mind from worrying about the past or the future, according to experts.

“Sometimes, even playing a card game where you have to think critically, follow the rules and analyze other's body language and behavior requires you to be focused in the present moment,” Morgan said. “People who spend a lot of time online or watching TV don't get that.”
By Nola Valente
A native Texan, Nola serves as reporter for the Katy edition of Community Impact Newspaper. She studied print journalism at the University of Houston and French at the University of Paris-Sorbonne in France. Nola was previously a foreign correspondent in Jerusalem, Israel covering Middle East news through an internship with an American news outlet.


MOST RECENT

Katy ISD to return to standard operations in June

As of June 1, Katy ISD students and staff will no longer be requiring face masks or offering virtual school, Superintendent Ken Gregorski said in an email on April 16.

Costco Business Centers, of which there are only about 15 in the country, carry different products and provide a different shopping experience to members than do traditional Costco Wholesale stores. (Courtesy Costco Wholesale)
Costco Business Center being built in Stafford; see live music in The Woodlands and more top Houston-area news

Read the top business and community news from the Houston area from the past week.

The program, which began this week in San Marcos, gives Amazon and Whole Foods employees and contractors direct access to COVID-19 vaccinations. (Courtesy Amazon)
Amazon begins rollout of statewide vaccination clinics for employees

The program, which began this week in San Marcos, gives Amazon and Whole Foods employees and contractors direct access to COVID-19 vaccinations.

(Courtesy Great American Cookies and Marble Slab Creamery)
Hybrid Marble Slab Creamery, Great American Cookies location coming to Katy

A new Marble Slab Creamery and Great American Cookies hybrid location will be opening July 1 at Grand Morton Town Center.

Memorial Hermann is hosting a drive-thru vaccine clinic at the Smart Financial Center in Sugar Land April 15-16. (Community Impact Newspaper)
Walk-ins welcome at COVID-19 vaccine clinic April 15-16 at Smart Financial Center

Haven't recieved the COVID-19 vaccine yet? Memorial Hermann is hosting a drive-thru clinic from 7 a.m.-5 p.m. in Sugar Land. No appointment necessary.

Population and Survey Analysts, which predicted KISD would grow by approximately 2,400 new students per year for the next decade, made the recommendation to build additional elementary, junior high and high schools, especially in the north and far west areas of the district. (Jen Para/Community Impact Newspaper)
Katy ISD officials talk budget deficit, bond

"Where is the new money coming from?”

Federal funding is set aside for public schools to address effects of the pandemic. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Why Texas has not yet distributed $18 billion in federal funds intended for public schools

As budget decisions loom for school districts across Texas, state leaders are holding on to federal funds intended for public schools to use in addressing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Homes priced above $750,000, such as this one in the Heights, saw a surge in sales in March, with almost twice as many properties sold. (Courtesy Houston Association of Realtors)
Average Houston single-family home price jumps 20% in March

The average sale price for a home in March was $370,847.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas said power outages are not expected April 13, while requesting energy conservation. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)
UPDATE: ERCOT call for energy conservation ends April 13 without need for power outages

An ERCOT official said "tight" supply and demand conditions arose on the state's electric grid April 13 due to forecasting issues amid planned, seasonal maintenance outages by some power generators.

Spearheaded by state Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, the new court, if established, would expand the capacity of the county's criminal court system in hopes of reducing its backlog, which stood at 70,951 total cases pending before criminal district courts in Harris County as of April 8. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Harris County supports creation of new criminal district court to tackle case backlog

If the efforts are successful, this would be Harris County's first new criminal district court since 1984 when the 351st District Court was created.

Newk's Eatery has closed its location in the Katy area. (Courtesy Newk's Eatery)
Newk's Eatery closes Katy-area location

While the Katy location may have closed, Newk's continues to serve diners at its Bunker Hill restaurant.