A body of evidence is accumulating that points to the growing problem in society of addiction to the internet. The internet allows us to do so many things, but unfortunately for some this comes at a price. Internet addiction can be very damaging as addicts begin to replace their real life relationships with ones that are solely online.
UK psychologists claim there is a strong link between depression and heavy internet use. 1.2% of people surveyed last year were found to be internet addicts, and similarly stated that were simultaneously depressed. The researchers did not, at the time, claim that one caused the other or vice versa, but there is a strong suggestion that a link between the two exists.
The 1.2% spent more time on gambling, sex and networking sites, having replaced real relationships with online forms instead. Dr. Catriona Morrison, one of the leading researchers, stated that ‘while many of us use the internet to pay bills, shop and send e-mails, there is a small subset of the population who find it hard to control how much time they spend online, to the point where it interferes with their daily activities.’
The question is whether depression leads to excessive internet use, or whether the case is entirely the other way around. Dr. Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, claims ‘to the extent that the internet encourages meaningful friendships and social connections it can be a very good influence on people's lives.’ However, ‘social interaction online should not usually replace an offline social life. We should take note of this study's findings - it suggests that further research in the area is needed.’
Since that early study, there has been great controversy about the connection. Indeed, researchers and experts are now suggesting that the criteria used within the study was far too wide reaching and did not identify the internet as the addiction itself. Rather, those using the internet to excess were addicted to the websites they most frequented; many of those surveyed were more likely addicted to gambling or pornography, and simply used the internet as a tool.
Regardless of the findings of the study, addiction and depression are unfortunately two sides of the same coin. However, psychotherapy has been successfully used to treat internet addiction so far, by helping the sufferer to gain a better understanding of what lies behind the compulsion. If a friend or family member is using the internet to excess and foregoing relationships and commitments outside, it’s worth seeking help and advice.