Television: Depressing?

Add depression to the long list of bad things associated with excessive television time.

 

In a study published this month in the Archives of General Psychiatry, researchers from The University of Pittsburgh and Harvard looked at the health of over 4,000 adolescents over seven years. After controlling for many other factors, they found that greater time watching television was associated with an increased risk of depression. There was a consistent dose-response: for every extra hour of daily television, the risk of depression increased by about 8%. The risk was somewhat stronger in boys. Other kinds of video entertainment (such as playing video or computer games) did not show this effect.

 

Depression is a serious illness among teens. It’s underdiagnosed and under-treated, and is associated with a significant risk of school failure and suicide. While this study does not mean that television causes the depression, it does mean that there is a significant association that parents and other caregivers need to be aware of. If your child does watch a lot of TV, you should think about the ways that this might lead to or be caused by other unhealthy influences:

 

  • Increased TV watching may be a symptom of social isolation. Your child may not feel that there are other things to do.
  • TV time can interfere with the development of other hobbies and interests, including sports and other positive self-esteem and team-building aspects.
  • More TV means less sleep, which itself is a risk factor for depression and school problems. Weight gain, too.
  • The weight gain associated with increased TV time is also a risk factor for mental illnesses, including depression.
  • TV shows and advertisements contribute to perceptions of a distorted self-image, and can make especially vulnerable kids feel unattractive and unliked.
  • Many shows include strong images of violence and unhealthy sexual situations that could provoke anxiety or further distress already-confused or worried children.

 

I don’t know whether increased TV is a cause or a symptom of developing depression; the ways in which these problems interrelate seem to work in both directions. But it does seem clear that too much television is not a good idea.

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