Too Much Media Linked to Mental Health Issues

Depression and social anxiety linked with media multitasking

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Ever text messaged while watching TV? Or talked on the phone while playing a video game? Listened to iTunes while online? You're media multitasking — which is now linked to anxiety and depression.

A new study has found that individuals who frequently multitasked with media types were more likely to be anxious or depressed. That does not mean media multitasking makes you anxious or depressed. They don't know yet why the link is there.

But in the world of new media everywhere, it's a link worth exploring.

"Seek help for anxiety or depression."

The study, led by Mark W. Becker, PhD, of the Department of Psychology at Michigan State University, looked at whether multitasking on media was linked to mental health issues. Dr. Becker and colleagues interviewed 319 undergraduates - more than two thirds female - about their media multitasking habits with a specific questionnaire.

They were asked how many hours a week they used at least two types of media simultaneously. The media types included television, cell phones, text messaging, video games, personal computers, music, surfing the web and similar activities. The participants were also assessed with various psychology tools for their levels of anxiety, depression, neuroticism and extroversion.

An analysis of the results showed a link between frequently multitasking with different kinds of media and depression and social phobia.

The relationship between media multitasking and both depression and anxiety remained after the researchers took into account overall media use and personality traits like being neurotic or extroverted.

Using a lot of different media frequently was not found to be related to social anxiety or depression, even though it was related to multitasking. It was only the multitasking that was tied to depression and anxiety.

However, this does not mean that media multitasking causes depression or anxiety. The link between the activity and the mental health condition could go either way.

One could cause the other, or there could be an underlying cause that affects both of them. In fact, it could even be that individuals with depression and/or anxiety are multitasking with different media to help cope with their condition.

"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," Dr. Becker said.

It's worth noting that the idea of "media multitasking" is not necessarily new, said LuAnn Pierce, a social worker in Colorado and a dailyRx expert.

Flipping through a magazine while the television is on or while listening to music is also media multitasking and activities that people have been doing for decades. The difference now is that there are so many more types of media all around us.

"Now we read, listen to music and play games on our phones or computers, so it is easier to media multitask," Pierce said. "The use of digital technology and the MTV-style of taking in information in small, fast sound bytes has probably changed how we process information."

But the connection it shares with mental health is less clear overall, Pierce said.

"Understanding the correlation of media multitasking and anxiety or depression may not be easily resolved," she said. "I could see the relationship going in either direction – it will be interesting to see what future studies determine."

The authors said more research is needed to understand the relationship better and any possible causes. The study was published in the December issue of the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking. Information regarding funding was unavailable, but the authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 5, 2012
Last Updated:
January 2, 2014