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Media multitasking: Does it really contribute to anxiety and depression?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Media multitasking linked to anxiety and depression

A new study that researchers say is important has found a link between using different forms of media at the same time and anxiety and depression.

According to the findings that come from Michigan State University, multitasking with various forms of media – such as playing a computer game while watching TV – is strongly linked to mental health issues.

Mark Becker who led the study says the reasons why are still unclear, but nevertheless, significant.

Becker, who is an assistant professor of psychology, said in a press release: “We don’t know whether the media multitasking is causing symptoms of depression and social anxiety, or if it’s that people who are depressed and anxious are turning to media multitasking as a form of distraction from their problems.”

Becker explains the finding might be important especially for youth. In the past decade multitasking with different forms of media has spiked among young people 120%.

The finding comes from surveys of 319 people who were asked about their media use and mental health.

The study participants were asked how many times a week they used the computer, watched TV, used their cell phone, surfed the web or played computer and video games. They also took a standardized mental health survey.

Becker said the link between anxiety and depression and use of multiple types of media was a surprise.

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The finding isn’t a total surprise, however. A 2009 study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, suggested teens - especially males – had a higher risk of developing depression for every 1 hour of television that they viewed.

When researchers factored in additional media use they found the odds of depression for teens and youth was even higher.

The study authors suggested too much media takes time away from other social and athletic activities that can protect from depression. Excess exposure to media could also be a deterrent to sleep.

“Whatever the case, it’s very important information to have,” Becker said in a press release. “This could have important implications for understanding how to minimize the negative impacts of increased media multitasking.”

The message that media could lead to mental health problems may be especially important for anyone already dealing with depression and anxiety. Staying away from the computer, cell phone and computer and focusing on visiting with friends, exercising or other social activities could lead to better mental health and improved sleep.There are also concerns from researchers about 'internet addiction'.

Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis from Seattle Children's Hospital probably sums up media use best. According to Christakis who is especially concerned about media violence and the impact on youth: "Media is very much a part of our lives. The real research agenda is to find out how to use it in healthy ways."

The newest finding doesn't prove that multitasking with various types of media is the cause of mental health disorders, but does support a growing body of evidence that too much exposure to the internet, TV and cell phones could contribute to anxiety, depression and even other types of mental health disorders, including violence among youth.

Michigan State Univesity

Image credit: Morguefile