What Your TV Habits May Say About Your Mental Health

Binge watching television tied to depression, loneliness and lack of self control

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Watching TV can be a great way to unwind after a hard day — but only in moderation. Watching too much TV may be a sign of depression.

People prone to feeling sad and lonely and lacking self control were more likely to watch endless episodes of their favorite TV shows — known as "binge-watching" — a new study found.

“Use of television shows and movies as a means of relaxation is very appropriate for any individual (especially with friends and family),” said professional counselor Daniel Berarducci, MA, CPC, of Person-Holistic Innovations in Las Vegas, in an interview with dailyRx News. “However, too much of anything will eventually lead to unhealthy behavioral patterns."

Binge-watching is closely related to addiction, wrote the authors of this study, led by Dr. Wei-Na Lee, of the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Lee and team wrote that “those who feel negative emotions such as loneliness and depression may binge watch TV series to stay away from their negative feelings.”

Patients can fight back against many addictions by replacing negative behaviors with positive ones like exercise, seeking the support of friends and family and seeking medical care.

For this study, Dr. Lee and team conducted an online survey of more than 300 young people aged 18 to 20. Those who watched more than two episodes of a show in one sitting were considered to be binge watchers.

Around 240 of the study patients said they binge-watched shows on TV. Most watched one to three hours, while others could spend up to seven hours in one sitting.

Those who watched the most TV also appeared the most depressed and lonely.

Whether so much TV is good or bad depends on how patients balance their lives, Berarducci noted.

“With the ease of accessibility of information and visual media, the importance of personal balance " is higher than ever, he stressed. For whatever reason a person spends so much time glued to the TV, "the effects of repeated 'bingeing' behaviors will affect an individual at both a biological and behavioral interactive level."

Yoon-Hi Sung, a study author and grad student, told dailyRx News that watching TV may be a social behavior for some.

“Binge watching may be a mechanism to keep up with the trend in order to interact with others," she said. "It can provide stories to share" and help people connect with others, Sung said.

But if a person is depressed, too much TV can be a problem, Berarducci said. He said depressed patients who spend hours watching TV may feel worse because they are not spending that time engaging with others.

This study will be presented at the 65th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association in San Juan, Puerto Rico, May 21 to 25. Research presented at conferences may not have been peer-reviewed.

Dr. Lee and team disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
January 27, 2015
Last Updated:
January 29, 2015