Excessive Internet Use Is Linked to Depression [or not]
Posted Feb 03 2010 10:19pm
People who spend a lot of time browsing the Internet are more likely to show depressive symptomsaccording to the first large-scale study of its kind in the West by University of Leeds psychologists.
Researchers found striking evidence that some users have developed a compulsive internet habitwhereby they replace real-life social interaction with online chat rooms and social networking sites.
The results suggest that this type of addictive surfing can have a serious impact on mental health.
Lead author Dr Catriona Morrisonfrom the University of Leedssaid: “The internet now plays a huge part in modern lifebut its benefits are accompanied by a darker side.
“While many of us use the internet to pay billsshop and send emailsthere is a small subset of the population who find it hard to control how much time they spend onlineto the point where it interferes with their daily activities.”
hese ‘internet addicts’ spent proportionately more time browsing sexually gratifying websitesonline gaming sites and online communities. They also had a higher incidence of moderate to severe depression than non-addicted users.
“Our research indicates that excessive internet use is associated with depressionbut what we don’t know is which comes first — are depressed people drawn to the internet or does the internet cause depression?
“What is clearis that for a small subset of peopleexcessive use of the internet could be a warning signal for depressive tendencies.”
Incidents such as the spate of suicides among teenagers in the Welsh town of Bridgend in 2008 led many to question the extent to which social networking sites can contribute to depressive thoughts in vulnerable teenagers.
In the Leeds studyyoung people were more likely to be internet addicted than middle-aged userswith the average age of the addicted group standing at 21 years.
“This study reinforces the public speculation that over-engaging in websites that serve to replace normal social function might be linked to psychological disorders like depression and addiction,” added Dr Morrison.
“We now need to consider the wider societal implications of this relationship and establish clearly the effects of excessive internet use on mental health.”
This was the first large-scale study of Western young people to consider the relationship between internet addiction and depression. The internet use and depression levels of 1,319 people aged 16-51 were evaluated for the studyand of these1.2% were classed as being internet addicted.
While smallthis is larger than the incidence of gambling in the UKwhich stands at 0.6%.
The research will be published in the journal Psychopathology on 10th February.
Story Source: Adapted from materials provided by University of Leedsvia EurekAlert!a service of AAAS.
1. Morrison et al. The Relationship between Excessive Internet Use and Depression: A Questionnaire-Based Study of 1,319 Young People and Adults. Psychopathology2010; 43 (2): 121 DOI: 10.1159/000277001
Tal Yarkonia post-doctoral fellow in the psychology department at Columbia Universityposted a thoughtful critique of the research study (reported in the above news story) in his post “internet use causes depression! or not” – here is his summary:
“In sumwhat can we learn from M&G’s paper? Not that much. To be fairI don’t necessarily think it’s a terrible paper; it has its limitationsbut every paper does.
“The problem isn’t so much that the paper is bad; it’s that the findings it contains were blown entirely out of proportionand twisted to support headlines (most of them involving the phrase “The Dark Side”) that they couldn’t possibly support.
“The internet may or may not cause depression (probably not)but you’re not going to get much traction on that question by polling a sample of internet respondentsusing measures that have a conceptual overlap with depressionand defining groups based on arbitrary cut-offs.
“The jury remains openof coursebut these findings by themselves don’t really give us any reason to reconsider or try to change our online behavior.”