By Andrew Nusca
Posting in Technology
People who spend a lot of time using the Internet are more likely to show depressive symptoms, according to a new study.
In the first large-scale study of its kind, University of Leeds psychologists found evidence that users can develop a compulsive internet habit, replacing real-life social interaction with online chat rooms and social networking sites.
This type of addictive use can have a serious impact on mental health, according to their research.
"The Internet now plays a huge part in modern life, but its benefits are accompanied by a darker side," said lead author and Leeds lecturer Catriona Morrison in a statement. "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."
The researchers evaluated Internet use and depression levels of 1,319 people aged 16 to 51. They found that 1.2 percent of the group was considered "Internet addicted."
While that number is small, it's actually twice the rate of addiction to gambling in the U.K., at 0.6 percent.
Compulsive Internet users had a higher incidence of moderate to severe depression than non-addicted users, and they spent proportionately more time browsing online communities, gaming sites and sexually gratifying websites, according to the study.
The chicken-or-egg question: Do depressed people use the Internet more heavily, or does heavy Internet use lead to depression? It's unclear.
What is clear, however, is that for a small subset of people, there could be a link between the two.
In other words, excessive Internet use has become a mental health condition.
In the study, young people were more likely to be internet addicted than middle-aged users. The average age of the addicted group was 21 years old.
The Leeds study is the first large-scale study of Western young people to consider the relationship between internet addiction and depression.
Findings will be published in next week's edition of the journal Psychopathology.
Feb 4, 2010
My personal opinion here is that the conclusion, "Compulsive Internet Use Linked To Depression", is an over-reach. I can't read the source paper; the "download here" link takes me to a site to buy the paper. So much for press access. Nice. Have a quick look at their numbers. You don't need to know much math here to see something is strange. They studied 1,319 people and came up with 1.2% "addicts". 1.2% literally means 0.012. So heck, let's multiply. I get... 15.8 people. I really wonder why they didn't just say, "We found 16 people in our study". They also did not specify the length of the study. (To be fair, maybe this is in the full paper, but it should be in a summary as well.) They also speak of "depression", without specifying what type of depression! 1 - A "major depressive disorder" hits 15% of Americans. It's the leading cause of disability in the U.S. 2 - Dysthemic disorder (chronic, mild) hits 1.5%. 3 - Bipolar disorder - 2.6 % Many other disorders bring on depression. As an example, - Anxiety Disorders, 18%. "Anxiety disorders frequently co-occur with depressive disorders..." - Panic disorder, 2.7%, is fully treatable, but most people with it don't know this. Almost all really have something to be depressed about. We're up to 28% of Americans suffering some type of depression, and I'm not even trying hard. (This data is at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america/index.shtml ) So, let's compare depressing percentages. 28% vs. the Internet study at 1.6% is: 17 times larger. This means that compared to known depressions, this one is getting down in the "noise" level. Compare populations? US, ~~ 304 million, England, ~~ 51 million. 28% of US is 85,120,000 depressed people. 1.6% of England is: 3,060,000 depressed people. The study, remember, found... 16 people. I note the study does not have anyone below age 16. I don't know who sets up the study author's computers, clock time, microwave oven's time, VCR/DVD's time, and tells them how to record things, but in my case it's kids *below* the age of 16. They really rule the world, they just haven't given us a list of demands yet. Seriously, why aren't they in this study? This is silliness. I'm amused that the study said these ... okay, 16 people... spent more time at SEX sites, GAMBLING sites (sure to get headlines! SEX! GAMBLING!) and... and ... "online communities"??? Errr... Heck, my aunt and my son routinely go with others into "World of Warcraft" and fight monsters, collect gold and treasure, and chat. They have a wonderful time! But I just don't see any SEX or GAMBLING there. Directly quoting the report: "What is clear is that for a small subset of people, excessive use of the internet could be a warning signal for depressive tendencies." Remember these words: "small subset", "could be", "warning signal", and only "tendencies". Now, the headline says: "Compulsive Internet Use Linked To Depression". But it seems to me it's really: "For A Small Subset Of People (we found 16 in a thousand), Excessive Use Of The Internet Could (maybe) Be A Warning Signal For Depressive Tendencies". Just doesn't have the kick of the other headline, does it? Thanks, David Small