Erratic Web Use Associated With Depression

A study on the behaviour of university students online and its correlation with depression has highlighted that those with the illness tend to use the internet more erratically, and in many different ways compared to their non-depressed classmates.

Researchers led by Sriram Chellappan from the Missouri University of Science and Technology, collected internet usage data from 216 students enrolled at the college. Notably, students with symptoms of depression were more likely to use the Web for a greater variety of purposes and flick between sites at random.

Visiting file-sharing pages, instant messaging and emailing, online video viewing, and playing games were all more popular among the depressed students, but the manner of their browsing was found to be especially significant.

Switching from sending an email to watching a video, back to emailing and finally chatting in a seemingly random pattern was a common feature of their behaviour. Researchers believe this haphazard use of the internet is a result of students having difficulty concentrating - a common trait associated with depression.

There was also little consistency in the amount of time depressed users spent online, which may differentiate them from heavy internet users in general (readers breathe collective sigh of relief).

Of course, innumerable young adults use the Internet heavily, but with a more focused method, searching for new sources of information and testing new features and applications.

Switching between programs and services may be common among these users, but analysts believe the key is the consistency and manner of their Internet time, in contrast to those with symptoms of depression.

The study collected data anonymously without interfering with the students' normal internet usage for a month. Unlike many similar surveys, the students did not have to answer questions on their usage - enhancing the data's accuracy by removing the danger of participants giving results that they thought best suited the situation, and not the actual truth. The full report can be found here.