A study forthcoming in IEEE Technology and Society Magazine offers new insight on how certain behavioural patterns can be indicative of depression, with particular attention given to the ways we use the internet.
The study looked at 216 random university students, screening them for signs of depression before collecting data on their internet use. Of the group, about 30 per cent met the minimum diagnostic criteria for depression — the same 30 per cent whose internet use varied significantly from that of the other, "not depressed" students.
According to Sriram Chellappan, a researcher from Missouri University of Science and Technology, internet quirks distinct to the "depressed" group included frequent switching among applications, significantly more use of file-sharing software, and frequent activity on either instant messaging platforms or email.
What we do already know of depression is that it is often associated with distractibility and unsustainable attention spans. So it makes sense that the depressed students jumped around more from page to page. Instant message and email blasting are also understandable in this context; depression is often experienced as a marked feeling of loneliness, so reaching out for human interaction seems to be a natural response of self-preservation.
All this is well and good, but Chellappan's proposed application of this research is what's really significant about the study. These findings could be used to develop a new software that would be able to monitor an individual's internet usage and alert them to any usage patterns that may be indicative of depression.
"The software would be a cost-effective and an in-home tool that could proactively prompt users to seek medical help if their Internet usage patterns indicate possible depression," Chellappan said. "The software could also be installed on campus networks to notify counselors of students whose Internet usage patterns are indicative of depressive behaviour."
Software like this, used in universities, could be a key tool in preventing student suicides. Suicide-proof window latches and staircase guardrails are a fine approach, but recognising and treating the depression sooner would mean fewer suicides to prevent in in first place. [LiveScience]
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