Mental Health Awareness Month – Combatting Loneliness In the Age of Screens

Dina Goldstein Silverman, PhD

Dina Goldstein Silverman, PhD

Established by Mental Health America in 1949, Mental Health Awareness Month raises awareness about the importance of mental health in the lives of all Americans.

According to Mental Health America, “Mental health refers to our emotional and social well-being and impacts how we think, feel, and behave. It plays a role in connecting with others, making decisions, handling stress, and many other aspects of daily life. Everyone has mental health, and it deserves your attention just as much as your physical health does.”

In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, Dina Goldstein Silverman, PhD, HSPP, Lead Psychologist for Cooper’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health and Associate Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, has shared helpful tips for how to achieve better balance in the age of social media and screens.


Combatting Loneliness In the Age of Screens

by Dina Goldstein Silverman, PhD

Research literature and mainstream media have recently focused on worsening feelings of loneliness and social isolation that many people are experiencing today. The global pandemic certainly has not helped this phenomenon, but even before people were shuttered in their homes, children, adolescents, and adults were reporting feelings of loneliness and sadness, as well as worsening social anxiety and depression. That seems counterintuitive – we are connected all the time with our devices, from attending meetings with colleagues around the world to texting with old friends and classmates who now live across the country. We are only a text message away from our friends, and we can share intimate aspects of our lives, from meals we have eaten to medical procedures with scores of acquaintances, friends, classmates, and neighbors on our social media profiles. Yet, humans are feeling more disconnected from one another and more disenfranchised than ever. What can be done to combat this epidemic of loneliness?

While technology enables us to be in touch with many people instantaneously, it can also prevent us from setting healthy boundaries within our personal and professional lives. To achieve balance and peace, it is important to practice being fully present, and technology can and does provide an easy distraction. One strategy may be to mute group text messages or put your cell phone on silent when attending an important meeting or appointment rather than attempting to multitask. Multitasking can lead to feelings of anxiety and overwhelm and result in doing both tasks poorly. Another strategy is to let go of the urge to compare when perusing social media. It is important to remember that what most people post to their social media profiles – vacation photos of beaming families, gorgeously decorated and impeccably tidy homes, group photos in coordinating outfits – are the highlight reel, not the cutting room floor.  Most people do not post a photo of themselves caring for their sick child or elderly relative, or washing dishes or arguing with their significant other. When you find yourself feeling despondent or less than by comparison to someone’s glamorous vacation photos, it is important to remember that what you are seeing is not a complete picture of someone’s reality.

Yet another strategy is to reduce time spent on social media. Perusing social media can and does become addictive; the algorithms are such that more and more of the same content we enjoy perusing is generated to keep people scrolling. Limiting social media use has been consistently shown to reduce loneliness and depression. By spending time on our screen, we are missing out on connecting with people and activities that bring us meaning and joy in our daily lives.  What can be done to connect? Something as small as taking a walk outside on a sunny day consistently has been shown to significantly reduce depressive symptoms and help with anxiety. Spending time engaging in physical exercise that helps move our bodies has the benefits of giving us extra energy and generating the feel-good hormones that help us feel contented and uplifted. Doing meaningful activities, from yardwork and gardening to playing with children and animals to preparing a home-cooked meal, can alleviate feelings of loneliness and sadness.

Finally, another strategy for addressing loneliness is to become involved with helping others.  Taking loneliness and putting it to good use by reaching out to someone in greater need has enormous benefits. Research has shown that showing empathy to others helps us feel more engaged and motivated and lessens sadness. It does not have to be a great big volunteer effort, either – offering to mow the grass for an elderly neighbor or delivering a meal to a family coping with illness can help provide a sense of belonging.

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