A new study conducted on internet users by researchers from the Missouri University of Science & Technology revealed that the time spent surfing the web can be used to gauge stress levels and identify depression in a person.
Very few things have impacted our lives in the recent years like the internet. At any given time, there are millions of people all over the world hooked to the internet. Over the years, this number has significantly increased.
AdvertisementThe experts monitored the internet usage pattern among 216 college students and then correlated it with depression scores.
In the new study carried out by Sriram Chellappan and his colleagues, volunteers were required to fill out several questions designed to unearth their depression symptoms. The questions were presented in such a way that the students did not realize that the researchers were attempting to find out their depression levels.
The volunteers were given a pseudonym and were identified only with that fictitious name. Every time the students logged into their university server they were tracked and monitored anonymously. A month's data was randomly collected and analyzed.
The findings reveal that the pattern of internet usage by a person can provide an early warning of depression in that person.
"We have identified that average packets per flow, peer-to-peer (octets, packets and duration), chat octets, mail (packets and duration), ftp duration, and remote file octets show statistically significant correlations with depressive symptoms. Additionally, Mann-Whitney U-tests revealed that average packets per flow, remote file octets, chat (octets, packets and duration) and flow duration entropy have a statistically significant difference in the mean values across groups with and without depressive symptoms," reports the study.
The study concluded that those who were feeling depressed or blue were more likely to email, chat online, play games or exchange files. Dr. Sriram Chellappan, an assistant professor of computer science at the Missouri university said: "The study is believed to be the first that uses actual internet data, collected unobtrusively and anonymously, to associate internet usage with signs of depression."
A previous study conducted on the same lines was considered inaccurate by the current researchers as it required people to remember and report on their internet usage and to tell how many times they checked emails and so on.
When Chellapan searched the net for people who were willing to talk about their tryst with depression and the internet, he came across people who would trawl endlessly over the net to get away from their problems. Although the net is a good place to find support, many just used it to escape reality or evade their core issues.
The internet can feed a person's paranoia and can also be a very scary place for those who would like to melt in solitude within its anonymity. The familiarity of the online community can be comforting to many, particularly to those who are mentally or physically not inclined to do much during their phases of depression. On the other hand, the net can also be a good place to meet people via forums, gaming or support groups, especially for people who cannot afford therapy or who have limited access to it.
Researchers from Missouri University hope to employ this study to diagnose depression in the future with cost-effective, in-home monitoring software. Meanwhile, more validation is required in linking a person's mental health status with the time they spend on the Internet.