Teenagers who are addicted to the internet are more than twice as likely to suffer from depression, scientists claim.
For the first time, a study has found evidence that 'pathological' use of the internet can cause mental health problems. Previous research has been unable to determine whether spending hours online was a trigger for depression or merely an activity that depressed people turn to.
The study looked at 1,000 teenagers in China with an average age of 15, who were assessed for depression and anxiety. They were asked how often they were online as well as questions such as: 'How often do you feel depressed, moody or nervous when you are offline, which goes away once you are back online?'Six per cent were classified as having moderately 'pathological' internet use, while 0.2 per cent, were deemed severely at risk.
Nine months later they were re-assessed for depression and anxiety. More than eight per cent had developed depression.
The risk for those addicted to the internet was about two-and-a-half times higher than for those who were not, the researchers said.
The study was published online in the medical journal Archives of Paediatrics And Adolescent Medicine and was carried out by Dr Lawrence Lam, of the School of Medicine in Sydney, Australia, and Zi-Wen Peng, of the Ministry of Education and Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China.
Dr Lam believes that results suggest that young people who are initially free of mental health problems but use the internet pathologically could develop depression as a consequence and claims that screening for at-risk individuals at school setting could be considered an effective early prevention strategy.
What do you think?
Do you worry about the amount of time your child spends on the internet?
Do you set a time limit, especially in the school holidays?