Any psychiatric disorder is challenging enough, but there’s a single disorder that frequently makes the sufferer even more vulnerable to additional psychiatric problems. A new study from the McGill University Department of Psychiatry in Montreal, Canada, has found that people who have suffered from depression are more likely to develop an Internet addiction.
This discovery largely confirms the expectations of the researchers, who anticipated that symptoms of depression were likely to result in more sedentary hours spent in front of a computer screen. However, the researchers did not anticipate the second of their discoveries, which was that young men who have had depression are much more likely than young women to develop an Internet addiction.
There were 761 participants in the Montreal study, consisting of men and women who were identified as having depression symptoms in 2007 and 2008, when they were 20 years old. Four years later, when the participants were 24, they were asked to keep track of the time they spent using the Internet or playing games on a computer or television.
The study found that the participants spent an average of more than three hours per day on the Internet or playing games. The average adult spends around two hours and 20 minutes per day on these activities. The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology recommends no more than two hours of recreational screen time per day; both populations exceed this recommendation on average, but the group with the history of depression exceeds it much more significantly.
The young men in the study posted the most disturbing figures of all, with an average of four more hours per week spent online than the young women in the study. The researchers had not expected to find such major differences between men and women, especially since such significant gender variations in online hours are not present in the general population.
Overall, women are more likely to spend computer time to interact socially, which could help them to recover from symptoms of depression or create connections and opportunities that will translate into non-digital activities. In contrast, men are more likely to spend their time with games or other non-social activities, which could lead them to become more isolated. However, specific research is required to determine whether the men and women in this particular subgroup correspond to these general trends of computer and gaming activities.
Excessive time spent in front of a screen creates both physical and mental health concerns. Too much Internet time can easily develop into compulsive Internet usage, and result in reduced time and energy directed toward work, school, personal relationships and other important elements of adult life. Screen time can also be one of the major contributing factors in an overall sedentary lifestyle, which can lead to a wide variety of health problems stemming from a lack of exercise and a lack of time spent outdoors.
Some studies have even found a link between the hours spent online and the development of depression. So far, these studies have not demonstrated a strong cause-and-effect relationship between excessive time spent online and the appearance of depression symptoms. However, some researchers are worried that young people, especially young men, who have had depression could find themselves in a lifetime pattern of cycling depression.
The researchers for the Montreal study also suspect that the hours of screen time reported by their participants does not fully reflect the number of sedentary hours. The study asked the 761 men and women to report their hours on computers, or playing games through a television screen. They did not ask about hours spent watching television, reading books or interacting with mobile devices. As a result, this group almost certainly spends even more sedentary hours than the study reflects, and as a result is actually at even greater risk for health problems associated with a lack of physical activity.