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Your Internet Use Can Signal Depression

How you surf the web provides clues to whether you have depressive symptoms, say researchers.

Next time you are feeling depressed, keep an eye on how you surf the web. Your Internet use could signal your mood even before you are aware of it, say researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology.

Many studies have looked at how the Internet affects mood, but a new study published in IEEE Technology and Society Magazine is the first to tie Internet use patterns to depressive symptoms.

Researchers monitored how 216 students surfed the web. Rather than asking students to remember their online activities, researchers used the network data routinely monitored by universities and businesses.

Students with depressive symptoms—such as anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and low mood—used the Internet differently than those with good mental health.

The noticeable behavior differences included checking email compulsively, watching many videos, spending a lot of time playing online games and chatting, and frequently switching between programs.

The study shows that if you are feeling depressed, you might tend to surf the web differently. The researchers can’t say, however, whether the Internet causes—or even reduces—depression.

For example, switching between applications could indicate a lack of focus, which has been shown to be a sign of depressive symptoms in students. Chatting online, though, could mean that students feeling depressed are seeking help for their stress or anxiety.

Still, the researchers say in the New York Times, “We believe that your pattern of Internet use says something about you. Specifically, our research suggests it can offer clues to your mental well-being.”

They hope to use this research to develop an app that could monitor how you surf the web, and alert you when you are feeling depressed. Couple that with restaurant recommendations, and you could have a great night out.

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