Depression and the Internet

February 10, 2010


It’s not often I comment on a mainstream news item, but The Guardian has reported that a new study links depression and excessive internet use. Now as someone who could not make a living without the Internet for research, it caught my eye as I am also someone who has experienced depression since my early teens. So in the current age of heavy internet use, particularly by teens, just how much is too much?

Work has been done in South East Asia on this, but nothing to date in the UK until researchers at Leeds University did a study on a group of young people and adults to see at what point their Internet use became a problem. It’s already known that for a small proportion of users it becomes an addiction but less well known is that people in this group were more likely to be depressed than non-addicted users, particularly males with an average age of just over 18.

It seems to be a chicken and egg situation: which comes first – are depressed people drawn to the internet or does the internet cause depression? What is useful, particularly for parents, is that it is clear is that, for a small subset of people, excessive use of the internet could be a warning signal for depressive tendencies according to Dr Catriona Morrison of the University’s Institute of Psychological Sciences.

A more worrying concern for me is that addicts spend proportionately more time browsing sexually gratifying websites, online gaming sites and online communities and that the research concurs that these again reinforce the belief that over use of the Internet is serving to replace normal social function. In other words, keep a close eye on the amount of computer online time is being spent – not always easy when most teenagers have their machines in their bedrooms, or have laptops so monitoring use is even more difficult.

If you also find that depression is affecting memory, whatever age, then Ginkgo appears to be as effective in younger people as it is in the elderly. It can also be useful as a short term supplement (5-7 days) before exams to help with focus and short term retention.


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