Is Watching Too Much TV Making You Depressed? Studies Say It Can

young kid watching tv

Would it surprise you to learn that there is a link between depression and watching TV? Perhaps it wouldn’t; you might be thinking that people watch TV when they’re feeling blue as a way to escape from their troubles, so naturally there would be some correlation between depression and television viewing habits.

But this is not what we are talking about. What we mean is that there is a direct cause-and-effect relationship between the amount of time spent watching television and the likelihood of eventually being diagnosed with depression, meaning that if your TV viewing habits are excessive, you are putting yourself at greater risk of suffering from this debilitating and life-altering condition.

Want proof of this assertion? Here are three recent scientific studies published in peer-reviewed journals that provide it:

  • University of Maryland sociologists looked at more than 30 years of data on the subject of self-evaluated happiness and media use, and discovered that happy people watch on average one hour less television per day than those who suffer from depression. In general, those who were the happiest watched TV for only two hours per day or less and spent a significant amount of time socializing with family and friends (study published in Social Indicator Research, 2008).
  • A British study of almost 4,000 Scotland residents found that 66 percent of adults who watched two or more hours of TV each day were obese and had much higher rates of depression and anxiety. Interestingly, the correlation between depression and television viewing habits was strong enough that good exercise habits had no ameliorating effect, even though exercise is usually prescribed as a panacea for depression and other types of mood disorders (study published in American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2010).
  • As a part of the massive US Nurses’ Health Survey, which monitored the health and behavior patterns of more than 50,000 women for 14 years, information was collected about TV watching habits and their relationship to various health disorders. Researchers reported that women who watched three or more hours of TV per day were 13 percent more likely to be diagnosed with depression at some point, whereas those who exercised regularly and did not view TV excessively reduced their risk of depression by 20 percent (study published in American Journal of Epidemiology, 2011).

Active Troubles, Passive Dangers

Depression tends to develop in response to prolonged stress or long-term exposure to emotionally trying circumstances. However, the way a person handles such situations also plays a big role in determining whether he or she will ultimately succumb to this illness, and it is clear that attempting to chase away the bad feelings by retreating into the imaginary landscapes created by television does not solve the problem and in the end will only make things worse.

The problem is that watching TV is a passive activity, and health and healing always require a proactive approach that directly addresses the source of the difficulty. Depression is defined by a gut-wrenching and utterly discouraging lack of motivation to do even the simplest things, as the pure act of living loses all of its color, flavor and intensity. It is notable that in the University of Maryland study, participants who engaged in meaningful social activity were far less likely to suffer from depression, which indicates how important the most basic pleasures in life are for all human beings.

Life is not meant to be lived for working, or for meeting responsibilities, or for performing the duties expected of you by your family, the community and society. All of those things are important, but they are supposed to be merely means to a greater end and not ends in themselves. When duty or responsibility is all there is, the mind will eventually balk and break down under the strain, and if the only action a person takes to escape from this situation is to retreat into the fantasy worlds created by television writers and directors, this unfortunate choice will not combat and may even hasten his or her descent into the oblivion of depression. Active engagement in life is the opposite of depressed behavior, and not coincidentally it is also the opposite of sitting around watching television all day.

Escaping the Invisible Chains

Television is neither god nor demon, neither salvation nor damnation. It is instead a tool with limited usefulness, and people who forget that and attempt to use it as a replacement for authentic living or as a way to cope with difficult circumstances are setting themselves up for trouble. If this by some chance is what you have been doing, then the remedy to your rising plight is clear: you need to pick up your remote and turn off the TV immediately, and then you need to get up and get out of the house and out into the real world where fascinating and deeply rewarding experiences await. Learn how to embrace and enjoy these, and you will not have to worry about someday being overwhelmed by stress and depression.

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