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UK Researchers Link Heavy Internet Use with Depression

Researchers at Leeds University in the UK say they’ve found a strong connection between depression and internet addiction.

To see what impact online behaviors might have on mental well-being, Leeds University researchers surveyed 1319 internet users about their online habits, symptoms of depression and satisfaction with life in general.

The Findings

  • Of these 1319 people, 18 were classified as being internet addicts
  • As a group, these 18 people displayed far greater symptoms of moderate to severe depression than 18 control (non internet addicted) subjects.
  • The 18 internet addicts in the study were more likely to spend time online looking at pornography, chatting or internet gaming. The researchers suggest that depressed people may be using internet communication and interactions as a substitute for real-world social interaction.

The researchers advertised in online social networking sites for participant volunteers and obtained a sample of ages from 16 to 51, with an average age of 18.

Lead researcher Catriona Morrison, who published the study in the journal, Psychopathology, commented on the findings, saying, "The internet now plays a huge part in modern life, but its benefits are accompanied by a darker side. While many of us use the internet to pay bills, shop and send e-mails, 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."

Morrison concedes that she cannot say whether depressed people are more likely to be drawn to compulsive internet use or whether very heavy internet use can cause depression.

The Critics

Not everyone, however, is buying into this alarming link between heavy internet use and depression; some experts have called into question Morrison’s research and interpretations. Among the criticisms levied:

  • The subject pool was not taken at random
  • The percentage of internet users who scored as depressed, 1.2%, is far below the estimated 5% of the population who suffer from depression – making claims that heavy internet use causes depression less credible
  • Social connections via the internet can in some cases help depressed people cope better

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