COVID-19: New Zealanders spending longer on devices, anxiety and depression increasing - study

But nearly half of the Kiwis surveyed said increased screen time helped them feel connected.
But nearly half of the Kiwis surveyed said increased screen time helped them feel connected. Photo credit: Getty Images

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant New Zealanders are spending longer using electronic devices, leading to increased anxiety or depression, according to a new survey.

The Harris Poll of more than 1000 Kiwis, as part of a global study for cyber safety firm NortonLifeLock, found Kiwis are on gadgets for an average of more than five hours per day outside of work and school hours.

And that has led to 16 percent experiencing more anxiety or depression and 17 percent saying they have become addicted to being online because of the pandemic.

"Kiwis' addiction to their devices has taken a toll on their physical and mental health during the pandemic, making people feel burnt out," said Kevin Roundy, technical director and stalkerware specialist with Norton Labs, NortonLifeLock’s research division.

Six out of ten Kiwi survey respondents admitted they spend way too much time looking at screens, with close to half also saying smartphones are the gadget that they are spending too much time on.

Worryingly, nearly one in four (22 percent) said increased screen time during the pandemic had made them feel bad about their body or hurt their self-esteem, and more than 40 percent say it has made them less physically active.

But not everyone felt that increased screen time was a bad thing. Nearly half of the participants said it helped them feel connected, with 45 percent saying it's been how they unwind.

And while many may look at younger generations and make generalisations because of their ubiquitous smartphones, they also better understand the impact of using their devices, according to the survey.

Millennials and Gen Z in Aotearoa are more likely than their older counterparts to both admit they overindulge on gadgets and recognise that it negatively impacts their physical and mental health.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) has acknowledged the impact of the pandemic on people saying "it's understandable to feel sad, distressed, worried, confused, anxious or angry during this crisis."

A constantly updating mental health and wellbeing resources page on the MOH website lists ways to support Kiwis' mental wellbeing and where to get additional help if needed.

That includes staying mentally well while working from home and helping young people cope with the stresses of lockdown as well as links to self-help tools and apps.

The Harris Poll was conducted in late May and early June, before the latest COVID-19 lockdown. No estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.