An alarming new study by University of Leeds psychologists provides compelling evidence that online chat rooms and social networking sites can have a serious impact on mental health, sometimes leading to moderate to severe depression in users.
“The Internet now plays a huge part in modern life, but its benefits are accompanied by a darker side,” said the study’s lead author, Dr Catriona Morrison. “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.”
Morrison’s study, appearing in the journalPsychopathology, is the first to consider the relationship between Internet addiction and depression. Her findings are based on an analysis of the depression levels and Internet habits of 1,319 people aged 16-51.
One of Morrison’s findings was that young people were more likely to be Internet addicted than middle-aged users, with the average age of the addicted group standing at 21 years. She cites the spate of suicides among teenagers in the Welsh town of Bridgend in 2008 and questions the extent to which social networking sites can contribute to depressive thoughts in vulnerable teenagers.
“This study reinforces the public speculation that over-engaging in websites that serve to replace normal social function might be linked to psychological disorders like depression and addiction,” concluded Morrison. “We now need to consider the wider societal implications of this relationship.”