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Excessive Internet use linked to depression

Feb. 3, 2010
Courtesy University of Leeds
and World Science staff

Peo­ple who spend a lot of time on the Internet are more likely to show de­pres­sive symp­toms, ac­cord­ing to the first large-scale study of its kind in the West.

Uni­vers­ity of Leeds, U.K. psy­chol­o­gists found what they called strik­ing ev­i­dence that some users have de­vel­oped a com­pul­sive in­ter­net hab­it, re­plac­ing 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.

Peo­ple who spend a lot of time brows­ing the net are more likely to show de­pres­sive symp­toms, ac­cord­ing to the first large-scale study of its kind in the West by Univers­ity of Leeds, U.K. psy­chol­o­gists.


The In­ter­net “plays a huge part in mod­ern life, but its ben­e­fits are ac­com­pa­nied by a darker side,” said the uni­ver­sity's Catri­ona Mor­ri­son, lead au­thor of the stu­dy, to be pub­lished in the jour­nal Psy­cho­pa­thol­ogy Feb. 10.

“While many of us use the in­ter­net to pay bills, shop and send e­mails, there is a small sub­set of the popula­t­ion who find it hard to con­trol how much time they spend on­line, to the point where it in­ter­feres with their daily ac­ti­vi­ties,” she added.

These “in­ter­net ad­dicts” spent pro­por­tion­ately more time brows­ing sex­u­ally grat­i­fy­ing web­sites, on­line gam­ing sites and on­line com­mun­i­ties, Mor­ri­son con­tin­ued. 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 de­pres­sion, but what we don’t know is which comes first – are de­pressed peo­ple drawn to the In­ter­net or does the In­ter­net cause de­pres­sion?

“What is clear is that for a small sub­set of peo­ple, ex­ces­sive use of the In­ter­net could be a warn­ing sig­nal for de­pres­sive ten­den­cies.”

In­ci­dents such as a 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 stu­dy, young peo­ple were more likely to be In­ter­net ad­dict­ed than mid­dle-a­ged users, with 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 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 stu­dy, and of these, 1.2 per­cent were classed as be­ing In­ter­net ad­dict­ed. While small, Mor­ri­son not­ed that this fig­ure is larg­er than the in­ci­dence of gam­bling in the U.K., which stands at 0.6 per­cent.


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People who spend a lot of time browsing the net are more likely to show depressive symptoms, according to the first large-scale study of its kind in the West by University of Leeds, U.K. psychologists. Researchers found what they called striking evidence that some users have developed a compulsive internet habit, whereby 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. The internet “plays a huge part in modern life, but its benefits are accompanied by a darker side,” said Catriona Morrison, lead author of the study, to be published in the journal Psychopathology on Feb. 10. “While many of us use the internet to pay bills, shop and send emails, there is a small subset of the population who find it hard to control how much time they spend online, to the point where it interferes with their daily activities,” she added. These “internet addicts” spent proportionately more time browsing sexually gratifying websites, online gaming sites and online communities, Morrison continued. 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 depression, but what we don’t know is which comes first – are depressed people drawn to the internet or does the internet cause depression? “What is clear is that for a small subset of people, excessive use of the internet could be a warning signal for depressive tendencies.” Incidents such as a 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 study, young people were more likely to be internet addicted than middle-aged users, with 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 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 study, and of these, 1.2% were classed as being internet addicted. While small, Morrison noted that this figure is larger than the incidence of gambling in the U.K., which stands at 0.6%.