A recent study has revealed that teenagers who use the Internet pathologically are more likely to develop depression than those who don't.
Pathological (uncontrolled or unreasonable) use of the Internet has been associated with relationship problems, physical ill health, aggressive behaviours and other psychiatric symptoms.
Researchers studied pathological Internet use and later mental health problems among 1,041 teens in China (average age 15).
Participants were assessed for depression and anxiety using previously validated scales. They also completed a questionnaire to identify pathological Internet use, including questions that reflect typical behaviours of addiction.
At the beginning of the study, 62 participants (6.2 percent) were classified as having moderately pathological use of the Internet and two (0.2 percent) were severely at risk.
Nine months later, the adolescents were re-assessed for anxiety and depression; eight (0.2 percent) had significant anxiety symptoms and 87 (8.4 percent) had developed depression.
The risk of depression for those who used the Internet pathologically was about two and a half times that of those who did not.
"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," the authors said.
"As we understand that mental health problems among adolescents bear a significant personal cost as well as costs to the community, early intervention and prevention that targets at-risk groups with identified risk factors is effective in reducing the burden of depression among young people," they added.
Lawrence T Lam of the School of Medicine, Sydney and Zi-Wen Peng of SunYat-Sen University, Guangzhou, China prepared the report, which was published in the journal Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.
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Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters