Depressed people act differently online

Kimberly Gillan
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Depressed people spend more time online
Image: Getty Images

Imagine if your computer or phone could advise you that you need to see a psychologist.

It might sound space age, but that technology is on the horizon, thanks to US researchers who found people with depression tend to use the internet differently to others.

The Missouri University of Science and Technology study discovered people with depression spend more time chatting and sharing files. They are also more likely to switch between internet applications and frequently check emails.

The study surveyed 216 college students to determine which of them had symptoms of depression. The students’ online behaviour was then monitored every time they logged onto the university server.

Researchers discovered a clear correlation between their online habits and mental health and believe this research could pave the way for programs that spark an alarm to warn us that we’re becoming depressed.

Earlier research has found links between depression and internet use however those studies depended on surveys about people’s recollections of their online use. This is the first study that actually monitored people’s regular internet use, which sparked the idea of a warning mechanism.

But clinical associate professor Dr David Horgan, a psychiatrist who runs, says more research needs to be done.

“I would be very concerned from an academic viewpoint at working out what else can make people behave like that,” he says. “For example, attention deficit disorder … makes [people] flit from site to site.”

Dr Horgan says it’s common for many people to quickly change the site they’re viewing. “One of the joys of using the internet is being able to move from site to site,” he says.

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