UK psychologists warn of Internet blues

Fresh evidence that the Internet and depression go hand in hand has emerged from a new global study of cyber addiction by UK psychologists.

Dr Helen Petrie and student David Gunn of the University of Hertfordshire will reveal the findings of a study into Internet addiction and its effects in a fortnight at the British Psychological Society's London Conference.

"Studies have found that more net use goes with more depression. But it's not clear whether the Net causes depression or whether people who are already depressed go on the Net," said Petrie.

The survey will reveal that a significant proportion of those polled admit to being addicted to the Net and the more people surf the more they are likely to feel down. Petrie was reluctant to blame the world wide web: "My intuition is that life makes people depressed who in turn to the net. But there's a positive side for those that are depressed, introverted or lonely. Email and chat rooms provide social contact. However, if you sit alone all day logging on, it may be harmful in the long term," said Petrie.

But US expert Professor Robert Kraut of Carnegie-Mellon University insists that there is a stronger link between the Net and users' well being. Kraut is pioneering an ongoing community-based study into net addiction in Pittsburgh. "We have seen a decline in communications with friends and family and an increase in stress, depression and loneliness after one year," said Kraut. One hypotheses, according to Kraut, is that surfers swap strong social contacts for weak social ties found online.

Cyberpsychologist professor Kimberly Young, who is based at the University of Pittsburgh, is another expert in this field. Young carried out a three-year study of Internet abuse and offers online therapy via the Centre for On-Line Addiction []. Worried cyber-addicts can do a self-assessment test to find out if they are slaves to the Internet.