As we adjust to the “new normal” of remote working, with more companies than ever before allowing their employees to work from home, video calls have become the go-to way to keep in touch. How do they affect mental health, though?

In an era where a pandemic can cause entire countries to go into lockdown, face-to-face meetings can be impossible. As phone calls often do not feel as effective as being able to see someone, most companies are opting to use video calls instead.

As people are becoming increasingly aware of their mental health, they may wonder how video calls can affect it. Here, we look at a variety of possible effects of this form of communication on mental health.

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Video calls may have both a positive and negative effect on a person’s mental health.

A person may feel as though there is pressure to dress up for a video call, whether it be a work-related or personal one. When participating in a phone call, a person can wear whatever they like — even pajamas if they choose to.

However, on a video call, a person is visible and, therefore, may feel a certain level of pressure to ensure that they look presentable. For some people, this can cause anxiety that a standard phone call might not.

Sometimes, when a video call is necessary for work, people may feel as though it is intruding upon their home life. Normal work meetings happen outside of the home, in a workplace setting. Video calls happen from “the comfort of home,” but when the home is not in line with how a person projects themselves, this can cause embarrassment or shame.

Even without these negative emotions, a person may simply want to keep their home and work lives separate. However, if they have to use video calls, these worlds collide.

As with anything that requires a person to stare at a screen for extended periods, video calls can cause headaches. Studies have demonstrated a link between headaches and mental health issues, so anything that causes or exacerbates headaches can potentially adversely affect mental health.

In an in-person meeting, everything happens in real time. That is to say, there is no lag. Video calls often have a lag, which is where there is a delay between someone saying something and the other person receiving the message. This delay can cause frustration as people may end up talking over each other due to not being able to tell whose “turn” it is to speak.

With face-to-face meetings, there is a concept called gaze awareness, which subconsciously allows people to tell who is the focus of attention at any given time and who is going to speak. In video calls, this is absent, which means that the usual flowing conversations can become stilted and awkward.

A lot of people dislike phone calls in general. They can find them draining and hard work. Adding video to the mix can worsen these feelings. People who experience anxiety already often report heightened symptoms when they face video calls rather than emails.

Due to the unique nature of video calling, if a person has to participate in many of these calls, they may find themselves experiencing something known as video call fatigue. Video calls require more concentration to understand and process social cues, facial expressions, and any body language that a person may be able to detect.

The COVID-19 pandemic created an unprecedented situation in the world of healthcare. With people having to stay at home to help curb the spread of the virus, the healthcare profession has had to rely on technology to fill the gaps in the system via telemedicine.

The impact that telemedicine can have on mental health is significant. Telemedicine means that people are still able to “visit” their healthcare providers virtually and get the reassurance that they need.

It also means that mental healthcare has become more accessible. Whereas people previously had to travel to a physical location, healthcare on-demand systems allow a person to access therapy whenever they want, from the comfort of their couch.

Learn more about telemedicine here.

Not everyone can visit their friends and families as much as they would necessarily wish to. People may live a great distance away or have a busy life that does not allow them to visit others regularly. Video calls can enable people to have virtual visits, which can lessen any guilt they may feel about not being able to be there in person.

Whether a person is isolating due to health conditions, is physically unable to get out and about, or simply has nowhere to go, video calls can help reduce feelings of loneliness. Studies have demonstrated that there is a link between video calls and reduced feelings of loneliness and social isolation.

Video calls can mean that despite the distance, friends and family members can maintain relationships. Being able to see someone’s face can make a person feel closer to them than just a phone call, and video calls can be a substitute for face-to-face meetups when these are not feasible.

Video calls mean that people can attend classes and learn from home. In this way, this technology makes education more accessible than it is when people have to attend specific venues. Being able to learn from home means that more people can gain knowledge and new skills.

People may find that this has a positive impact on their mental health, as they may feel more confident. On the other hand, a person could feel as though they get less support than they would in a classroom setting, both from their lecturer and their peers. This feeling could create higher levels of stress and have a negative impact on mental health.

Video calls have a wide variety of uses and can have both positive and negative effects on a person’s mental health.

Researchers must carry out more studies to understand these effects fully and to determine how best to use video calls to improve a person’s mental health.