Depression is one of those illnesses that quite probably doesn’t get the recognition that it deserves. With a significant chunk of depression being brought on by feelings of loneliness and isolation, it seems sensible to believe that the web can offer significant support in connecting people up. That was the hypothesis of a recent study conducted by a group of US universities, and the results found were incredibly positive, revealing a reduction in depression of as much as 30%.
“That’s a very strong effect,” says Shelia Cotten, professor of telecommunication, information studies, and media at Michigan State University. “And it all has to do with older persons being able to communicate, to stay in contact with their social networks, and just not feel lonely.”
The study saw researchers collect data via the Health and Retirement Survey, which surveyed 22,000 older Americans every two years. The researchers initially wanted to test whether past depression is a good indication of current depression, with Internet usage being a useful proxy of the before and after states of respondents.
They found that whilst some people did remain depressed despite internet use, it wasn’t substantial, Cotton says. “Internet use continues to reduce depression, even when controlling for that prior depressive state.”
The theory was a simple one. Older people can often end up living alone, which gives rise to the possibility of depression. Socializing via the web therefore can lesson that risk. The study does provide a caveat however by revealing that not all web use is equally beneficial.
“If you sit in front of a computer all day, ignoring the roles you have in life and the things you need to accomplish as part of your daily life, then it’s going to have a negative impact on you,” Cotten says.
“But if you’re using it in moderation and you’re doing things that enhance your life, then the impacts are likely to be positive in terms of health and well-being.”
Similar findings emerged last year in an organizational context. Rather than looking at socializing however, researchers from Ghent University in Belgium wanted to explore whether the utilization of our skills (or lack thereof) contributed to our levels of happiness or depression.
They analysed nearly 17,000 employed people from over 21 countries to try and understand their level of depression. They found that those who were not tapping into their full skillset were at an increased risk of depression, with the main reasons being that they were not being sufficiently challenged at work. Couple this with a lack of status and prestige and it’s not a happy picture.
I’ve written before about the great potential for talent management in areas such as open innovation, and how these methods can help us to work purely in areas that drive our passions. It seems therefore that the social web can have a big impact upon depression, whether in the workplace or out of it.