Jama LogoIn today’s information age most teenagers are addicted to the internet. Such youngsters may be at risk, or at least the following article says so. A team of investigators claim adolescents using the Internet pathologically are more prone to develop depression than those who don’t.

Pathological both uncontrolled and unreasonable Internet employment were supposedly considered harmful since the mid-1990s. It was revealed that signs and symptoms of surfing the internet appear identical to other forms of addiction. Using the internet may be correlated with relationship problems, physical ill health, aggressive behaviors and other psychiatric symptoms.

The study comprised 1,041 teenagers with an average age of 15 years from China. Lawrence T. Lam, Ph.D., of the School of Medicine, Sydney, and the University of Notre Dame, Fremantle, Australia, and Zi-Wen Peng, M.Sc., of the Ministry of Education and SunYat-Sen University, Guangzhou, China examined pathological Internet usage and later mental health problems of these participants. By employing previously validated scales, researchers evaluated the study subjects for depression and anxiety.

Authors quote, “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. 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. Screening for at-risk individuals in the school setting could be considered an effective early prevention strategy according to recent meta-analysis. Hence, a screening program for pathological use of the Internet could also be considered in all high schools to identify individuals at risk for early counseling and treatment.”

The participants were made to fill in a questionnaire for analyzing their pathological Internet use. Questions like ‘How often do you feel depressed, moody or nervous when you are off-line, which goes away once you are back online?’ were asked. In the early stages of the study, 62 participants were determined for having moderately pathological use of the Internet by the experts. On the other hand, 2 study subjects were reported to be severely at risk.

After a period of nine months, the scientists again scrutinized the participants for anxiety and depression. As a result, 8 registered symptoms of anxiety and 87 seemed to have developed depression. The risk of depression elevated around two and a half times more in teens using Internet pathologically as compared to those who did not. It was enlightened that no relationship between pathological Internet use and anxiety was monitored.

The study will be published in the October print issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.