Internet Self Improvement Social Media

5 Ways Technology Might Be Feeding Your Depression

Joel Lee 04-02-2016

One of the most troubling things about technology is its correlation with increased rates of depression, particularly in people who spend a lot of time on computers 5 Reasons Working With Computers Is Bad For You & How to Stay Healthy Working on the computer may sound like the most relaxed job in the world, but it's quite the contrary. It's very tough on your body, which is not used to this modern type of work.... Read More . It’s not surprising though, once you realize that computers can ruin our sleep habits Sleep Better & Improve Your Health By Changing How You Use Your Computer Computer work must not be hard on your body. Simple changes that only cost you minutes each day can have a great impact. Here are some tools to help you out. Read More and affect us in other ways mentally.

To be clear, we want to make a distinction between clinical depression and seasonal depression. The former is persistent while the latter is temporarily brought on by changes in season (making it easier to treat Have A Happy Year -- How To Combat Seasonal Affective Disorder "Happy New Year" wishes can ring false to those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or "Winter Blues". This round-up of tools could help to improve the quality of your life. Read More , such as through the use of light therapy lamps The 5 Best Sunlight Lamps for Winter Depression and Light Therapy If your depression only occurs in the winter months, it's likely seasonal and may be treatable with a sunlight lamp. Read More ).

This article is more about tech and clinical depression.

That being said, we aren’t saying that technology causes depression. Rather, there’s a good bit of evidence to suggest that technology can worsen depression. All we want to do is make you more aware of technology’s potential impact on you.

Note: We are not medical experts. If you think you may be depressed or are having trouble coping with your depression, always consult your doctor first and foremost.

1. The Internet

There’s no denying that the Internet has been the most influential force on society in the past hundred years — perhaps even in all of human history. Never before have we had such unprecedented access to news, knowledge, and entertainment from cultures all around the world.

At the same time, this wealth of access has led to something called digital information overload Managing Digital Information Overload - Is Technology The Cause & The Cure? [Opinion] ‘Drinking from the firehose’ is a turn of phrase you might not be familiar with. But believe me, if you are reading this blog and many others like this, it’s exactly what you are doing... Read More , and our minds simply aren’t able to handle that kind of constant influx of information without making some big changes along the way.


When we subject ourselves to information overload, our brains actually adapt to it — by learning to expect that kind of constant stimulation. That’s why when you step away from the Internet, life feels so slow and boring. This phenomenon is called novelty addiction Take A Break From the Internet - You’ll Thank Yourself Later [Opinion] Oh, the Internet. One of the most world-changing inventions of the past century, perhaps even in all of human history. Never before has everything been so available in so little effort for so low a... Read More (also known as “popcorn brain”).

Furthermore, information overload isn’t just about the amount of data that we have to process, but also the variety of data that we have to sort through. Because the brain grows accustomed to overstimulation, we start looking for things that are “new” — things we’ve never seen before.

According to psychologist Lucy Jo Palladino:

When overload is chronic, you live in a state of unresolved stress and anxiety that you can’t meet ongoing demands to process more information.

In fact, studies on Internet-related depression have been around as early as 2010, such as when Leeds University found a potential link between Internet use and depression:

Our research indicates that excessive internet use is associated with depression, but what we don’t know is which comes first — are depressed people drawn to the internet or does the internet cause depression?

This study reinforces the public speculation that over-engaging in websites that serve to replace normal social function might be linked to psychological disorders like depression and addiction

To be fair, the Internet can be used to help depression, as evidenced by the wide number of online support groups and communities Depression & The Internet: Welcome To Your Temporary Support Group Talking is important, and sometimes the Internet is a good substitute when your real life friends aren't around. Here are three sites I recommend for less formal depression-focused conversations. Read More that exist to help those going through depression. Even so, we can’t ignore the possibility that the Internet — and everything it contains — is aggravating that same depression.

2. Smartphones

Smartphone addiction is basically a subset of Internet addiction, but it is so prevalent today that it deserves to be in its own category. We love our smartphones, and if we were asked to give them up for even a day, I doubt many of us would be able to without feeling that itch.


Thanks to the smartphone, we can take the Internet everywhere we go. We’re always connected, never more than a tap away from viewing another webpage or sending another text message. And while some say that this hyperconnectedness is good, one has to wonder: Is it really?

In 2012, the University of Gothenburg found that heavy smartphone use has a real impact on physical and mental health:

Heavy cell phone use showed an increase in sleep disorders in men and an increase in depressive symptoms in both men and women.

A combination of both heavy computer use and heavy mobile use makes the associations even stronger.

And in 2015, a study by Baylor University may have pinpointed why people are so addicted to their smartphones:

The data revealed that those who use their smartphones more frequently are more prone to moodiness, materialism and temperamental behavior, and are less able to focus their attention on the task at hand… Unsurprisingly, people with impulsive personalities were also more prone to addictive smartphone use.

Much like a variety of substance addictions, cell phone addiction may be an attempt at mood repair… Incessant checking of emails, sending texts, tweeting, and surfing the web may act as pacifiers for the unstable individual distracting him or herself from the worries of the day and providing solace, albeit temporarily, from such concerns.

In short, smartphone addiction — and everything that entails, such as email addiction How to Beat Email Addiction by Tracking Inbox Habits Email is hijacking your days, and it's being sneaky about it. You can regain control over your time. Figure out how much time you devote to email right now and steal it back. Read More — is one way that depressive folks seek out things that will hopefully make them less depressed. Unfortunately, this rarely helps. Instead, it’s merely a distraction at best.

If you think you’re addicted to your smartphone, here’s a checklist of potential warning signs Are You Addicted To Your Smartphone? At one time, landlines and payphones were all we had--and we survived just fine, thank you very much. But now, it’s almost laughable if you don’t own an iPhone or Android, and for some of... Read More . If you know you’re addicted to your smartphone, there are apps out there that can help you use your phone less over time The 5 Best Apps to Help You Fight Your Smartphone Addiction Are you addicted to your smartphone? These mobile apps will help you salvage your personal life and regain your productivity. Read More .

3. Social Media

Social media is a wonderful thing, at least when used with caution. It allows us to stay connected with friends and family, to have fun and interesting discussions, and to stay on top of news, trends, and other social phenomena. These are all good things.


But here’s something you may not realize: for a lot of people, visiting a site like Facebook can actually result in a negative mood shift Facebook Makes You Sad, and "It Won't Happen to Me" is a Lie Facebook's potential as a trigger for depressive symptoms has been talked about in the past too, but this year has seen more of such studies than before. Here's what they say. Read More . As you see the highlights of other people’s lives, you may feel envious — and too much envy can lead to depression.

People have suspected this for quite some time, but in 2015, a study by the University of Missouri pretty much confirmed it:

If Facebook is used to see how well an acquaintance is doing financially or how happy an old friend is in his relationship — things that cause envy among users — use of the site can lead to feelings of depression.

We found that if Facebook users experience envy of the activities and lifestyles of their friends on Facebook, they are much more likely to report feelings of depression

The hyperconnectedness of social media Extreme Digital Addiction Is Destroying Kids' Lives Around the Globe With children in all corners of the globe becoming immersed in technology from ever-younger ages, it's about time we reflected on the startling impact this is having on their development. Read More is also an issue, particularly when users start feeling anxious whenever they have to disconnect from their social bubbles. You know it’s bad when people have to concoct colloquial terms to describe this, including FOMO (“fear of missing out”) and nomophobia (fear of being without your phone).

In short, social media is great because it opens up so many social opportunities that weren’t possible before, but it also presents us with unrealistic ideas of how others are living their lives — and when we feel like we’re falling behind, it can aggravate feelings of depression.

So before it gets any worse, check out our list of symptoms that may indicate you’re overdosing on social media How Do You Know When You're Overdosing On Social Networks? Just like anything, there are different levels of social media use. Some things are more severe than others. And, of course, something else that plays into it is how frequent these things occur and when... Read More .

4. Pornography

When we ran a poll on Internet pornography use How Often Do You Look at Porn on The Internet? [MakeUseOf Poll] Porn, and people's consumption of it, is a taboo topic, but we feel it's a suitable subject for this week's MakeUseOf Poll. Read More , the results were surprising yet expected. From a sample size of 793, 37% said they watched “probably once a week”, 33% said they watched “every day without fail”, and 10% said they watched “multiple times every day”.


In total, that means 80% of people who responded to the poll watched porn on a weekly basis at the very least. There wasn’t any scientific rigor in the polling method, but it works well enough as a rough estimate, and the results are undeniable: a lot of people watch porn.

The bad news is that porn has the ability to change the way the brain operates, even going as far as rewiring neural pathways and altering behaviors and personalities:

Scientists have discovered that your brain is a lot like a never-ending game of Tetris, constantly laying down new pathways based on your experiences.

Just like other addictive substances, porn floods the brain with dopamine. But since the brain gets overwhelmed by the constant overload of chemicals that comes with consistent porn use, it fights back by taking away some of its dopamine receptors.

As a frequent porn user’s brain acclimates to the new levels of dopamine flooding through it, regular activities that would normally set off a burst of dopamine and make the person feel happy aren’t strong enough to register much anymore, leaving the user feeling down or uneasy whenever they go for a while without looking at porn.

The good news is that this damage to the brain doesn’t have to be permanent:

Neuroplasticity works both ways. That means that the damage to the brain can be undone when someone gets away from unhealthy behaviors.

Now obviously pornography doesn’t guarantee depression, but it can certainly exacerbate it. People are quick to share anecdotes of how much they watch porn and yet aren’t depressed, but there are just as many anecdotes from people who found victory over their depression by quitting porn Pornography Addiction: The Hidden Struggle & How to Break Free [Feature] Anon22 discovered Internet porn when he was just 12 years old. For around 10 years, Anon22 has enjoyed pornography using his computer once or twice a day, a compulsion that he claims ruined his social... Read More .

Want to see these anecdotes for yourself? Check out /r/NoFap and /r/PornFree on Reddit, two communities of people who have sworn off porn as one of many steps toward personal growth and self-improvement How To Spark Personal Growth: 5 Tricks Of The Entrepreneur Not everyone has to be an entrepreneur, but everyone can learn something from the entrepreneur. By tapping into some of those entrepreneurial traits, you can radically alter your own life in an upward direction. Read More .

5. Gaming

One other area of the Internet that tends to worsen depression is gaming. Obviously it’s possible to play and enjoy games in moderation, but I’ve personally overcome video game addiction Video Game Addiction In Teens - What Is Too Much and How to Curb the Problem Video game addiction is a serious issue. I know this because I am an ex-video game addict. Read More at least twice in my life, and I’m not the only one, so I think it’s important that we recognize it as a real issue.


According to a study in 2012, a link was found between online gamers and severity of depression:

The online gamers with longer weekly gaming hours tended to have a longer history of online gaming, and more severe depressive, social phobic, and internet addiction symptoms.

Female online gamers had fewer weekly online gaming hours and a shorter previous online gaming history, but tended to have more severe somatic, pain, and social phobic symptoms.

The predictors for depression were higher social phobic symptom, higher internet addiction symptoms, longer online gaming hours, and female gender.

Like most forms of entertainment, video games are widely considered to be a form of escapism. For some, this means an escape from personal responsibilities. For others, it’s a way to distract from the unpleasant aspects of real life, such as one’s general state of unhappiness.

In some cases, socializing in an online game can help address the root issues behind one’s depression, but this isn’t always true. The mindless grinding in an MMORPG or the frequent dopamine hits in a competitive game can provide temporary relief, but at the expense of true resolution.

Like most distractions, online games simply postpone the depression. And when gaming turns into an addiction, it could result in increased friction in relationships, damage to self-esteem, physical and mental deterioration, and feelings of shame or regret — all of which could compound one’s depressive symptoms.

The Good News: Depression Isn’t the End

If you’re feeling depressed right now, even to the point of having suicidal thoughts, stop what you’re doing and check out these online resources for severe depression 7 Online Resources To Help Those Who Are Depressed & Suicidal Even though I am the Managing Editor of MakeUseOf, I have a huge disability in my life which is clinical depression. It started back in 2002, as a depression related to stress in my job,... Read More . We may not have depression-busting neural implants These Brain Implants Promise To Eradicate Depression From Humanity A fascinating form of depression treatment called deep brain stimulation is gaining ground and may change the way we view the treatment of mental disorders. Read More yet, but it can still be treated with the help of professionals!

On the other hand, if you only feel mildly depressed, then there are some things you can do to lessen the burden, such as pursuing a hobby that’s proven to make you happier 5 Creative Hobbies for Adults That'll Make You a Happier Person Proper creative outlets can improve your mental health and happiness. Here are some creative hobbies that are proven to help. Read More . It’s amazing what a little bit of recreation can do for the soul.

Do you use technology as a way to cope with depression? What has worked out well for you? What hasn’t? Share your experiences with us in the comments below!

Image Credits: Tired Woman on Laptop by conrado via Shutterstock, Smartphone Slave by Simos via Shutterstock, Facebook Notifications by Jayson Photography via Shutterstock, Porn Keyboard by fredex via Shutterstock, Computer Game by Blackregis via Shutterstock

Related topics: Health, Mental Health.

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  1. Kenny Stanfield
    December 11, 2018 at 5:24 pm

    This is one of the best articles I've read in a very long time. Just talking about it being an article in and of itself, I think this is very well written. It's not just one-sided. Thank you for that. I think the fact that it is written well, it just adds to the quality of the subject. I copied and pasted the text from this article into Microsoft Word and added some comments that I would love to share with you if you would be wiling to look at it and even just have a discussion. I would love to email it to you.

  2. CJ
    May 22, 2017 at 7:22 pm

    I've gone without internet for months at a time. Which did result in a totally different lifestyle. I would take morning walks, read books, rent movies, go out to eat, play console games, etc.

    With internet, I would basically be on the computer most the time. Not doing much else.

    I find just using internet on my phone gives me a taste of the internet but not as interesting to keep me on it all day. It has created a more balanced lifestyle.

  3. Anonymous
    February 5, 2016 at 7:54 am

    I rely heavily on sudoku and solitaire on my phone to distract me when I am depressed

    • Squalle
      February 6, 2016 at 7:07 am

      Same here. I use my phone and laptop to keep busy to keep my mind occupied. Not always games (although there are plenty on my phone!) but other things too.