In a study to be published in a forthcoming issue of IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, Sriram Chellappan, Raghavendra Kotikalapudi, and their colleagues at the Missouri University of Science and Technology explored the relationship between internet usage and mental health.
The study found that students who showed signs of depression tended to use the Internet differently from those who showed no symptoms of depression. For instance, the more a participant indicated signs of depression, the more his online activity demonstrated certain patterns such as high email usage, increased amounts of video watching, gaming, and chatting, and high “flow duration entropy”–an esoteric term which loosely translate to frequently switching activities, such as juggling videos, emails, chatrooms etc.
But these behavior patterns sound like the behavior patterns of the majority of the youth generation. How many 20 somethings whittle away hours online, multitasking from work emails, facebook, twitter, and Call Me Maybe viral videos? To me, “High Flow Duration Entropy” sounds a lot like Generation Y A.D.D. How can the study be sure that these characteristics are actually tied to depression, and not to the generational zeitgeist as a whole?
This finding becomes even more unsettling when you consider the research’s “practical applications” as presented by the researchers:
We hope to use our findings to develop a software application that could be installed on home computers and mobile devices. It would monitor your Internet usage and alert you when your usage patterns might signal symptoms of depression. This would not replace the function of mental health professionals, but it could be a cost-effective way to prompt people to seek medical help early. It might also be a tool for parents to monitor the mood-related Internet usage patterns of their children.
While I’m all for exploring new ways for technology to aid in mental health care, this seems like a recipe for misdiagnosis and hysteria. Privacy concerns aside, I don’t think it would be beneficial to create pop up adds to warn users of potential mental illnesses and depression.
The internet has become an oasis for those who struggle emotionally or psychology, a safe haven or escape from the stress, snap judgements, and anxiety of the real work. With such software, the internet would become just another judgmental force.
Do you think there’s a link between internet usage patterns and mental health? Do you think that link is strong enough to become a diagnosis tool? Let us know!