Can The Internet Affect Your Mental Health?

The impact of using the internet has shown mixed results. People with regular access to the internet have tested happier than those without it, yet internet addiction is now recognized by the mental health community as a very real problem.

This Mental Health Guide fills in the details on how the internet can affect your mental health.

Why Using the Internet Makes You Happy

These days, access to the internet is viewed as a basic necessity. People go online for news, weather forecasts, social interaction, financial information, pleasure reading, shopping, travel research and much more. When people who have become accustomed to using the internet are cut off from it, the results include anger, frustration and a sense of being disconnected. This is an important reason why access to the Web makes some people happy. Adults who have never used the internet test at happiness levels consistent with those who feel happier using it.

Internet Use Disorder

The term mental health professionals are using for internet addiction is Internet Use Disorder (IUD), and there is a push to have it included in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders. The hallmarks of IUD are consistent with similar disorders – the individual chooses the internet over face to face relationships, the person can’t stop the behavior and it takes up increasingly more of their attention. They develop sleep disorders and it begins to affect relationships and work. Online gaming, pornography and social networking are among the causes of IUD.

Other Potential Effects on Mental Health

For those who don’t self-limit their use of the internet, it may affect them in other negative ways. Reading too many new stories about tragedies can cause despair and lead to anxiety disorders. Reading chat boards where faceless people spew vitriol can cause irritation and anger. Missing sleep due to internet use can lead to depression, irritability, relationship problems and a loss of mental focus.

Surfing the Web with Wisdom

Maintaining control over the time you spend online and what you do while on the internet is the key to benefiting from it without the negative side effects. If the coarse nature of the debate on political or social sites makes you angry, then quit reading or dialoguing. That same principle applies to any type of site you regularly visit. If you feel worse after being there, it’s not good for your mental health.

The internet is a reflection of society as a whole. What you choose to participate in will determine whether the internet is a help or hindrance to having good mental health. If you believe you may have IUD/internet addiction, then consider talking with a mental health professional about your concerns.