Mood and the Net

The Internet contains a seemingly infinite number of interesting sites. It is often a source of enjoyment and acquisition of knowledge. However, because there is often little or no supervision in this environment, it is sometimes difficult to know when positive activity could become dangerous and cause damage.

A lot has been said about children surfing the web and how they can be exposed to sexual, malicious, and violent content. What hasn’t been known so far is the link between adolescent depression and the internet.

Adolescent depression involves persistent sadness, discouragement, loss of self-worth, and loss of interest in usual activities.

A study was recently published in the New York Times linking teenage depression with the internet.
The study was conducted in a high-school in Guangzhou, China, and involved adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18. The research relied on self-rating scales to assess anxiety and depression, along with an addiction test that asked questions like” How often do you feel depressed, moody or nervous when you are offline, which goes away once you are back on line?”
Of the 1,041 respondents, 94 percent were classified as normal internet users and 6 percent as moderately pathological or at severe risk for addiction.

The students at the start of the study were all free of anxiety and depression. The study found that, after nine months, no significant relationship between pathological use of the internet and anxiety was observed.

However, the relative risk of depression for those teenagers who used the internet pathologically was about two and a half times that of those who did not pathologically use the internet.

After nine months, 87 teenagers, or 8.4 percent developed mild to severe depression.
The pathological users went days or weeks without getting enough sleep (which of itself can contribute to depression) and tended to react intensely to the on line game world.
Failing in the world of on line game playing felt as real to these teenagers as failing in other parts of their lives.

The lesson to be learned from this study is that adolescents should be limited as to the amount of time they spend using the internet playing games. Young people who are initially free of mental health problems but use the web pathologically could develop depression as a consequence.