Does Extensive Internet Use Cause Depression?

There are several studies, recently performed, suggesting that people who are prone to the Internet addiction and use it a lot, have a high tendency to get depressed. There is still inconclusive what comes first: depression causes people to withdraw from the real life and to turn to the Internet to fill personal needs in the social interactions, or excessive use of the Internet “makes” people more depressed.

Internet Addiction Disorder

The growing body of research in the area of addiction suggests that Internet Addiction Disorder, a psycho-physiological disorder involving tolerance; withdrawal symptoms; affective disturbances; and interruption of social relationships, is a presenting problem that is becoming more common in society as on-line usage increases by the day.

To be diagnosed as having Internet Addiction Disorder, a person must meet certain criteria as prescribed by the American Psychiatric Association. Three or more of these criteria must be present at any time during a twelve month period:
  1. Tolerance:  This refers to the need for increasing amounts of time on the Internet to achieve satisfaction and/or significantly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of time on the Internet.
2.  Two or more withdrawal symptoms developing within days to one month after reduction of Internet use or cessation of Internet use (i.e., quitting cold turkey), and these must cause distress or impair social, personal or occupational functioning. These include: psychomotor agitation, i.e. trembling, tremors; anxiety; obsessive thinking about what is happening on the Internet; fantasies or dreams about the Internet; voluntary or involuntary typing movements of the fingers.
3.  Use of the Internet is engaged in to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.
4.  The Internet is often accessed more often, or for longer periods of time than was intended. 
5.  A significant amount of time is spent in activities related to Internet use (e.g., Internet books, trying out new World Wide Web browsers, researching Internet vendors, etc.).
6.  Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of Internet use. 
7. The individual risks the loss of a significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of excessive use of the Internet.
In latest researches, other characteristics have been identified.  The first is feelings of restlessness or irritability when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use. The second is that the Internet is used as a way of escaping problems or relieving feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety or depression. The third characteristic is that the user lies to family members or friends to conceal the extent of involvement with the Internet. And, finally, the user returns repeatedly despite excessive fees.

Leeds University Study, 2010

Psychologists from Leeds University found what they said was “striking” evidence that some avid net users develop compulsive internet habits in which they replace real-life social interaction with online chat rooms and social networking sites.

“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,” the study’s lead author, Catriona Morrison, wrote in the journal Psychopathology. “This type of addictive surfing can have a serious impact on mental health.”

In the first large-scale study of Western young people to look at this issue, the researchers analyzed internet use and depression levels of 1,319 Britons aged between 16 and 51. Of these, 1.2 percent were "internet addicted", they concluded. These "internet addicts" spent proportionately more time browsing sexually gratifying websites, online gaming sites and online communities, Morrison said. They also had a higher incidence of moderate to severe depression than normal users.

Limitations of the current study include the usual problems we see in studies like this. First, it was not a randomized, controlled sample — a significant problem with so many “Internet addiction” studies. Instead the researchers posted a questionnaire online and received responses from 1,319 Britons aged between 16 and 51. Of those 1,319 people, 18 — yes, that’s eighteen — met the criteria for “Internet addiction” using the Internet Addiction Test. So, if you are addicted to Internet, but that does not cause you major inconvenience and lifestyle impairment, you can be sure, you would not get in the group of selected individuals.

Other Studies

In another recent study, which results were published in August 2010, otherwise healthy Chinese teenagers were examined. Researchers interviewed 1,041 children, asking about the amount of time they were in the Internet, how often they felt depressed or moody when they were offline, which goes away when they log back online. About six percent of these children were considered to be pathological Internet users and “at risk.” Researchers found out that nine months later, the “at risk” kids were two and half times more likely to have symptoms of clinical depression. Dr Lawrence Lam, of the School of Medicine in Sydney, Australia, the lead researcher for this study, said: 'This result suggests that young people who are initially free of mental health problems but use the internet pathologically could develop depression as a consequence”.

One more 2010 study found that those who used the Internet 3 to 5 times a week to find information about their health conditions had significantly higher symptoms of depression than those who only did so occasionally. So, this study gives another insight on the dependency between Internet use and depression. People who may have maniacal worries on their health conditions, one of the wide spread phobia, frequently turn their efforts to find the necessary information on the Web.

Earlier study of 1998 tried to find the causal relationship between Internet addiction and depression: does the Internet cause the mental illness, or does mental illness lead people to abuse the Internet? Researchers approached the concept by providing Internet access to 169 people who previously had not been able to log on from home. The researchers reported in American Psychologist that the more time these people spent online, the less time they spent with their families, the smaller their social circles became and the more depressed and lonely they felt.

How the Internet May Cause Depression

While these studies seem alarming, experts are quick to point out that depression has only been linked to pathological users of the Internet, those with Internet addiction, not the average, everyday user.

“One simple factor is that pathological Internet users are not sleeping correctly,” says Joseph Garbely, DO, chief medical officer of Friends Hospital in Philadelphia. “They get less sleep because they’re pathologically using the Internet. They’re also not eating right, not connecting in a healthy way to people (face to face), in socially acceptable ways. They’re getting lost in gaming and fantasy on the Internet, so they’re engaged in secretive behavior.”

With increased frequency, these activities lead Internet abusers down the path to depression, says Frank Barnhill, MD, a board-certified family physician and author of Mistaken for ADHD. “Any activity that limits a person’s interaction with others, with different environments or settings and with acceptable social customs, will lead to social deprivation syndrome. Persons suffering social deprivation develop irritability, mood swings, poor concentration, increased restlessness, possible aggressive behavior and impulsivity, and relationship problems.”


Nobody can object the statement that Internet brings multiple positive changes to lives of many people. It can help in all segments of our personal life and business. It is a very useful tool, and as every tool, it can be abused. When you start feeling that virtual life of Internet is more interesting, safe, and lovely, than the real life, it is time to stop and look around. You definitely miss the point, letting the real life, real entertainment, real love, and real friendship to pass by. Use Internet as much as you need, but be FREE from Internet.

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