Depression and Internet Use
Patterns of behavior between people who do or don’t have depression tend to differ, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that Internet use varies too. A few studies have investigated the surfing habits of depressed people but these tend to fall into one of two camps. First there’s the argument that too much Internet use causes depression, sleep problems and stress-related disorders. Secondly there’s a line that says already depressed people use the Internet in different ways. This is something of a curious dichotomy. Why one or the other when there is just as much chance one feeds into the other? Even so, taken separately, such studies do reveal interesting findings.
In 2010, for example, a Leeds University study found that heavy usage to the point of addiction was related to depression. More males than females were considered addicts and more time was spent on online communities, pornographic and gambling sites.
Sleep problems and depression are related so the use of mobile phones and computers well into the evening and night has been considered as possible contributors. Some young people leave their equipment on all night and will often wake up to receive or check for text or other messages. There is also a case that long hours in front of a screen may suppress melatonin production. Melatonin is a hormone produced when light goes dim and which is responsible for sleep. Similarly, the microwaves emitted by WiFi and smartphones may also disrupt melatonin production, so some experts suggest turning everything off to encourage sleep.
Last year, an article appeared in Scientific American, looking at internet habits and how these might relate to mental health. The details of the study as it relates to depression and the controls exercised are available online. Of more general interest were the findings that depressed people showed higher levels of peer-to-peer file sharing, heavy emailing and chatting and fast switching between multiple websites, which may suggest a higher than normal need for emotional stimulation. Excessive emailing and chatting may signify “a relative lack of strong face-to-face relationships, as people strive to maintain contact with faraway friends or new people met online.”
So, does this resonate with you? Are you a late-night surfer? Do you consider yourself a heavy user? Are your social contacts more likely to be online than they are face-to-face? And what are the benefits, limitations or possible dangers of the web for depressed people?
The Relationship between Excessive Internet Use and Depression: A Questionnaire-Based Study of 1,319 Young People and Adults. Morrison C.M. · Gore H. Psychopathology 2010;43: 121–126