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Depression Health Center

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Internet Overuse May Cause Depression

Study: Teens Who Pathologically Use Internet May Be About 2.5 Times More Likely to Become Depressed
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 2, 2010 -- Teenagers who are addicted to the Internet are more likely to develop depression or other psychiatric problems than teens who are classified as normal Internet users, a new study says.

Researchers in Australia and China studied pathological or uncontrolled Internet use and later mental health problems in 1,041 teenage students in China. The students were free of depression and anxiety at the start of the study.

Sixty-two of the teenagers were classified at the start of the study as being moderately pathological users of the Internet, and two were found to be severely at risk for uncontrollable urges to go online.

Nine months later, the youngsters were evaluated again for anxiety and depression and 87 were judged as having developed depression. Eight reported significant anxiety symptoms.

Researchers say that their work suggests that teens who use the Internet pathologically may be about 2.5 times more likely to develop depression than teens who are not addicted to the Internet.

“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,” the authors write. “As we understand that mental health problems among adolescents bear a significant personal cost as well as costs to the community, early intervention and prevention that targets at-risk groups with identified risk factors is effective in reducing the burden of depression among young people.”

The study is published online in advance of the October print issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Teens and Internet Addiction

The researchers say screening young people who may be at risk of Internet addiction may be a good idea in all high schools to identify those who may need counseling or treatment.

The youths in the study were between 13 and 18 and attended high schools in Guangzhou, China.

Researchers say the findings “have direct implications for the prevention of mental illness in young people, particularly in developing countries.”

They write that although previous research has found that pathological Internet users are mostly young men with introverted personalities, the rates of psychiatric symptoms among girls are rising.

The researchers say that most of the youths in the study, 93.6%, were classified as normal users.

The study reports that:

  • 45.5% said the most common use of the Internet was for entertainment.
  • 28.1% said they used the Internet to search for information.
  • 26.4% said they used the Internet to avoid boredom, make friends, or communicate with school chums.

“Young people who used the Internet pathologically were more likely to use it for entertainment and less likely to use it for information,” the authors say.

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