Can Internet use trigger depression?

10:28, October 12, 2010      

Email | Print | Subscribe | Comments | Forum 

Teenagers with unhealthy online habits may be at greater risk of depression, new findings from China hint.

While the study isn't proof of a causal link, it is the first to approach the question of whether some forms of Internet use might trigger mental health problems down the road, according to the authors.

They rounded up more than 1,000 high school students in the city of Guangzhou and had them fill out two sets of questionnaires, spaced nine months apart, about their mental health and Internet use.

Among the 1041 students who had no signs of anxiety and depression at the outset, those who reported "unhealthy" Internet use were two and a half times as likely to have symptoms of depression at the second evaluation.

"This result suggests that young people who are initially free of mental health problems but use the Internet pathologically could develop depression as a consequence," Lawrence T. Lam, of the University of Notre Dame Australia in Darlinghurst, and Zi-Wen Peng, of SunYat-Sen University in Guangzhou, write in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

They define "pathological" Internet use according to Young's Internet Addiction Scale, which includes 20 questions such as "How often do your grades or school work suffer because of the amount of time you spend on-line?" and "How often do you fear that life without the Internet would be boring, empty, and joyless?"

About six percent of the Chinese students were labeled as having "moderate" pathological Internet use, and two landed in the "severe" category.

Eight percent of the teenagers developed symptoms of depression over the course of the study, and those with "bad" online habits were at greatest risk. There was no link between Internet use and anxiety.

Although the study tested Internet habits that came before the symptoms of depression, it can't say whether other psychological problems also played a role. For instance, a kid feeling slightly isolated might spend more time online, which could then fuel the sense of isolation.

Still, Dr. David A. Gorelick, who was not involved in the research, said the study had a strong design.

"It might lead mental health professionals and even parents to think more closely about the possible effect of pathologic Internet use in teenagers," Gorelick, a psychiatrist with the National Institute on Drug Abuse in Baltimore, told Reuters Health.

From his work with adult substance abusers, Gorelick said addiction often causes addicts' social lives to collapse, which might lead to depression. The same could be true for behavioral addictions, such as pathologic gambling, which are increasingly recognized by psychiatrists.

"As you get caught in the addiction, your behavior and thoughts start to focus on drug seeking and drug taking, and you start to neglect your other social responsibilities," Gorelick said.

In his opinion, excessive Internet use could be "an early warning" that something is wrong. But he stressed that "Internet addiction" is still an unproven concept.

"There have been so few studies that we just don't know if the phenomenon exists," Gorelick said.

Source: China Daily/Agencies


  • Do you have anything to say?


Special Coverage
  • Premier Wen Jiabao visits Hungary, Britain, Germany
  • From drought to floods
Major headlines
Editor's Pick
  • Chinese Navy soldiers hold an evening party marking the upcoming 62nd National Day aboard Chinese Navy hospital ship "Peace Ark" in the Pacific on Sept. 28, 2011. The Chinese National Day falls on Oct. 1. (Xinhua/Zha Chunming)
  • Photo taken on Sept. 30, 2011 shows the crowd at the plaza of Beijing Railway Station in Beijing, capital of China. The railway transportation witnessed a travel peak with the approach of the seven-day National Day holidays on Friday. (Xinhua)
  • A man wearing high-heel shoes takes part in the 3rd annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, an event when men literally walk in women's shoes to raise awareness about ending violence against women, at Yonge-Dundas Square in Toronto, Canada, Sept. 29, 2011. (Xinhua/Zou Zheng)
  • Photo taken on Sept. 29, 2011 shows a cargo ship in danger on the sea near Zhuhai City, south China's Guangdong Province. Cargo ship Fangzhou 6 of Qingzhou of southwest China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region lost control after water stormed into its cabin due to Typhoon Nesat on the sea near Zhuhai Thursday, leaving 12 crew members in danger. Rescuers rushed to the ship and saved them by using a helicopter. (Xinhua)
  • Actress Gong Li poses for L'Officiel Magazine. (Xinhua Photo)
  • Demonstrators from the Occupy Wall Street campaign hold placards as they march in the financial district of New York September 29, 2011. After hundreds of protesters were denied access to some areas outside the New York Stock Exchange on September 17, demonstrators set up a rag-tag camp three blocks away. Zuccotti Park is a campground festooned with placards and anti-Wall Street slogans. The group is adding complaints of excessive police force against protesters and police treatment of ethnic minorities and Muslims to its grievances list, which includes bank bailouts, foreclosures and high unemployment. (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)
Hot Forum Discussion