The coronavirus pandemic has had a massive impact on our daily lives which has led to an increase in people downloading apps and using social media as a coping mechanism.

Data provided to BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat by the Moment screen tracker app shows phone usage has increased by around 30% from pre-pandemic levels1.

Zoom and Houseparty have seen huge increases in take-up. Zoom’s global daily users have gone from 10 million in December 2019 to 300 million in April 2020 and 50 million people have signed up to Houseparty2. One in three people in the UK have also downloaded the TikTok app according to figures released by Sensor Tower3.

As a result of physical distancing guidelines, video conferencing website Zoom has been used for hen parties, quiz nights as well fitness classes. As well as having the facilities to host video chats, Houseparty also features classic party games including Heads Up and Trivia for users to take part in. TikTok encourages users to get creative and post 15-second video clips that can be informative but are, by and large, funny and entertaining.

Balancing act

Fiona McGill, occupational health manager at BHSF, believes screen time can have it’s benefits.

“Considering the circumstances, it’s understandable why people seem to be spending more time in front of their screens to keep in touch with family and friends.

“Almost six in 10 people in the UK are watching films or using streaming services to help them cope during lockdown, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics4.

“When it comes to screen time, try to keep it as varied and balanced as possible, between being educational and entertaining. Looking at screens to keep in touch with loved ones or using social media channels can be an effective coping mechanism if it’s short-term. As long as it doesn’t lead to brushing problems such as mental health and long-term conditions under the carpet.”

However, McGill advises people to be cautious of their time in front of the screen.

“Continuously looking at screens can cause headaches, dry eyes and can affect your sleep. Research from OnePlus has found nearly one in four UK adults have trouble sleeping because they spend too long on their phones before bed5.

“Research has also found just under two-fifths of UK workers have attributed a headache to excessive screen time6.

“It’s important to make sure we aren’t overly reliant on technology to make us feel good. If we’re so wrapped up in technology, then our locus of control is left solely to technology to cater for.

“As a result, likes, updates and connection online can become overly important and cause us to feel anxiety, tension and stress when those needs are not met. This can impact how we see life outside of technology as something that is not fulfilling.”

Social media

Coronavirus has sparked a huge increase in social media use. A study carried by Obviously found a 27% jump in engagement on TikTok from February to March7. Research also revealed daily likes on Instagram adverts rose by 76% over a two-week period during mid-March.

Richard Powell, occupational health adviser at BHSF, believes relationships could suffer if people spend too much time away from their family and instead are on their phones and online. He also adds social media can have an impact on mental health.

“More than two in five UK adults admit to spending too much time online8. An individual can create an identity when using social media. This can become so engrossing that you start prioritising your online screen identity over other parts of your life.

“Too much screen time would be when you’re neglecting other parts of your life and it’s having a damaging impact. For example, so much screen time that you don’t connect with friends and family or your physical health starts to suffer as a result.

“While social media can be a great way to connect with those we haven’t seen in a while and keep in contact with family, co-workers, and friends, it can have some negative side effects.

“Almost half of 18-34 year-olds have said their social media feeds make them feel unattractive and nearly seven million people in the UK feel depressed looking at friends’ perfect lives9.

“However, some people will only show you what they want you to see on social media so a life that appears perfect online may well not be a fair reflection of reality.”

Online trolling

The coronavirus outbreak has also seen a rise in cyberbullying with L1ght reporting a 900% increase in abuse targeting Asian people since the outbreak began10. Nurses have also been trolled online for voicing concerns about COVID-1911.

James Gregory, social media executive and YouTube presenter, has criticised trolls who have placed offensive content online and adds online trolling could continue during the outbreak.

“Around a quarter of British adults have experienced some sort of cyberbullying according to YouGov12. Anyone can access the internet from anywhere in the world. Due to the anonymity the internet can provide, trolls may feel they’re able to say things more freely online than they would in real life.

“There are always going to be people out there who will get pleasure from inflicting, ridiculing and humiliating people online. With so many social media channels, discussion forums and blogs, it’s inevitable there will always be one or two people who will post content to deliberately provoke others.

“All bullying, whatever the motivation or method is unacceptable and should not be tolerated. It can affect anyone.

“Targets of cyberbullying may hesitate to seek help. However, trolls can be dealt with. One way to gain control is to take action. This usually means deleting comments, blocking, and reporting the user. This lets the platform know that someone is harassing others online, and they can explore the matter further.

“If you’re being trolled on a regular basis by the same person (or group of people), take screenshots of the comments or messages. Saving evidence can help if you decide to take action against them.”


If you or anyone you know is struggling with their mental health, we’re here to help. Call us today on 0800 622 552 or email [email protected].


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