Background: Pandemic-related social distancing affects social connections, with implications for mental health. Preserving social connections through alternative means, such as communication technology use, which varies by age, may preserve social connections and protect mental health.
Purpose: This primary research tests associations between depressive symptoms and communication technology use, age, and age-by-technology use interaction.
Methods: Analyses were conducted on a sample of 251 Canadian adults. Depressive symptoms were measured used the PHQ-9. Participants were asked if they were social isolating/distancing (97%), what changes they made to how they connected socially, and how else the pandemic affected them. Open-ended responses were coded for communication technology use. Linear regression tested if age, technology use, and age-by-technology use interaction predicted depressive symptoms. Covariates were time since pandemic onset; race; sex; living along; household income and exercise (pre- and post-COVID change); self-isolating, and friends/family diagnosed with COVID-19.
Results: Older age, (b(SE) = -2.9(.68), p < .001), and technology use, (b(SE) = -1.6(.77), p = .035) predicted lower depressive symptoms. The age-by-technology use interaction was marginally significant, (b(SE) = 1.5(.79), p = .069). The age-depressive symptoms association was steeper for no-technology users, (b(SE) = -2.9(.68), p < .001), compared to technology users, (b(SE) = -1.4(.48), p = .004), such that younger adults who reported no technology use had highest depressive symptoms.
Conclusions: Technology use during the COVID-19 pandemic could protect against depressive symptoms, potentially more among younger adults. On-going analyses will explore associations between social connections, technology use, and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.