18 June 2012

How depressed people use the internet

A study among students shows how use of the internet is different for depressed people.


Frequent e-mail checking, switching applications and more videos, games and chatting are among the differences observed in people suffering from depression. In a study at Missouri University of Science and Technology, quoted in the New York Times, students who showed positive signs of depression showed a consistently different internet usage pattern.

This change was so marked, that researchers suggest they be included in an application to monitor usage and alert users when their usage habits start to show these distinctive patterns.

This is not the first study to show a difference in the way depressed people use the internet. A 2010 study at Leeds University, quoted in the Guardian, showed a correlation between excessive internet use and depression, although it was not decisive as to which came first: the internet overuse or the depression.

Common symptoms of depression

People who use the internet excessively may want to talk to a health professional, especially if they show any of the other signs of depression. The most commonly reported symptoms are as follows:

  • A depressed or low mood or feeling of sadness
  • Increased irritability
  • Increased anxiety or a feeling of nervousness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were previously enjoyed
  • Tearfulness or a feeling of wanting to cry, but a possible inability to do so
  • Decreased sexual interest or other sexual problems
  • Changes in appetite resulting in either weight gain or weight loss when not dieting
  • Changes in sleep pattern
  • Changes entailing either difficulty falling asleep, frequent waking during the night or waking up unusually early in the morning and not being able to return to sleep. Sleep may also be increased with a desire to be asleep most of the time.
  • A feeling of being chronically tired and energy-less or unmotivated
  • A slowing down or speeding up of physical activity (including speaking very softly or slowly)
  • Feeling worthless, useless and helpless
  • Feeling inappropriately excessively guilty (and possibly blaming oneself for being depressed or unable to “snap out of it”)
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or remembering
  • Difficulty making decisions, even over simple matters
  • A feeling that life is not worth living and frequently thinking about death and/or suicide
  • Becoming increasingly socially withdrawn and feeling reluctant to entertain or go out visiting
  • Not bothering to dress properly/self-neglect
  • Multiple physical complaints, e.g. frequent headaches, backaches/stomach aches or constipation
  • Alteration in menstrual cycle

Read more about these symptoms, causes and treatments in Health24’s depression centre.

(Adele Hamilton, Health24, June 2012)

Read more:
Quiz: Are you internet obsessed?



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Michael Simpson has been a senior psychiatric academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries, having worked at London University in the UK; McMaster University in Canada; Temple University in Philadelphia, USA.; and the University of Natal in South Africa.

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