Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Internet Addiction and Depression - What's the Connection?

Some recent studies conducted by British psychologists showed striking evidence that Internet addiction and depression seem to be related. The study found that a small proportion of Internet users were considered to be Internet addicts and that these people had a greater likelihood of getting depressed than Internet users who were not addicted.

Psychologists say that the reason behind this is that people who become addicted to the Internet eventually find themselves replacing real-life social interactions with online interactions in chat rooms and social networking websites. Since real-life social interactions are necessary for the psychological and emotional stability of a person, lack of it can lead to depression.

The study was conducted based on a questionnaire that was answered by over 1300 young people and adults aged between 16 and 51 years old who used the Internet regularly. A link to the questionnaire was placed on various UK-based social networking sites. The questions mainly revolved around Internet usage, such as how much time they spent online, what they do online, and so on. The questionnaire also included the Beck Depression Inventory, a series of questions that measure the severity of depression or depressive symptoms.

Only about 1.4% of the total number of survey participants were found to be Internet addicts, and they seem to have had more severe depressive symptoms. It was not clear, however, whether people who are already depressed turn to the Internet to fulfill their basic human need for social interaction, or if Internet overuse comes first.

The psychologists reported that over-engaging in social networking websites can easily occur and can just as easily lead to psychological disorders like addiction and depression. People therefore need to consider the large-scale societal implications of social networking sites on mental health.

A similar study, however, gave light to what was missing in the previous study. Another study was conducted in Australia and China, where over 1000 teenage students in China were exposed to uncontrolled Internet use. The students were completely free from anxiety and depression at the start of the study. Sixty-two of them were moderate pathological users of the Internet, while two were found to be severely unable to control their urges to go online. The study took nine months. In the next evaluation, it was found that an alarming eighty-seven of the students developed depression and another eight showed significant symptoms of anxiety.

The study suggests that Internet overuse comes first before depression. Researchers made it clear, however, that the study was conducted in a developing country, so results may differ in developed and underdeveloped countries where the circumstances are different. Nevertheless, they recommend that young people who may be at risk of getting addicted to the Internet should be screened to see whether they need treatment or counseling.

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