There is no doubt that the internet is an alluring place; you can go online looking for a way to make a cake and end up reading about the best way to improve your fitness, or even how to make more friends. It is often described as the information highway and this is true; there is a wealth of information covering every subject imaginable. You no longer need to visit a library, bookstore, or even attend a class; every bit of information you need is available with a few clicks of your mouse.

Social Impact

But the internet has become so much more than just an incredible source of knowledge. It has also provided a means of communicating with people; regardless of where they are in the world. Social media has enabled anyone to meet hundreds and even thousands of people through their computer and never actually meet them in real life. These social media contacts have the power to uplift someone or even tear them apart; a badly placed comment or a deliberate ‘troll’ can destroy self-confidence far quicker than anyone might imagine.

The Addiction

Becoming addicted to learning is relatively harmless although your social skills will suffer. More concerning is the addiction to social media which seems to have become the accepted norm in many walks of life. It is easy to create a social profile and reach out to make new friends. However, as soon as this escalates and you spend more wanting a bigger group of friends then you are heading into dangerous waters. The unfortunate truth is that today’s society revolves round fame and fortune; the internet can provide the illusion that you have both fame and fortune; pushing you to get more. In fact, the majority of internet users do not achieve this status. But, in the process you will become addicted to the internet; every few moment will be spent attempting to get more friends. In fact, there is now an internet addiction test which highlights the fact that the internet is addictive; in much the same way as alcohol or even substance abuse. The basic fact is that many people cannot survive unless they have been online several times each day.

The Link to Mental Health

Researchers at McMaster University in Canada have been conducting tests to assess the level of addiction to the internet. From a sample group of 254 people they found just thirty three who could be classed as having an internet addiction. However, they also tested for whether their use of the internet has given rise to any problems in the real world. Out of the 254 tested, nearly half, 107 people, tested positive. This starts to hint at a whole new range of issues which may be facing the medical world. Acknowledging that patients are suffering from internet addiction is one thing, but if this is linked to mental health issues then medical professionals will need to re-evaluate their approach to treating internet issues.

Symptoms

People with mental health issues will generally struggle to fit into the physical world. Common signs of a mental illness include depression, stress, anxiety and even impulsiveness; although this is by no means an exhaustive list. These symptoms were displayed by nearly half of the test group as a result of being deprived of the internet. Anxiety and stress are generally the first symptoms as the individuals wondered what was happening on the web, what they were missing out on whilst they were offline. Stress and anxiety are concerning simply because of the general health issues associated with them. However, when linked to internet usage they appear to quickly move onto impulsive behavior and then depression. The impulsive behavior is said to be in an attempt to obtain a response from others whilst the depression is the conclusion when they are unable to achieve the same high that the internet gives them.

Connecting the Dots

At this stage, the research is in its infancy. However, the association between internet addiction and mental health is clearly visible. The internet offers a range of intriguing options; alongside social media there are countless get rich quick schemes and gambling opportunities. It would be futile to suggest that access to these materials will not promote addiction. In fact, the internet is allowing people to hide their current addiction as it is not always easy for others to see what someone is doing on the computer.

As with any addiction there will be a gradual increase over time. An internet addict will need to look at their preferred sites every day. This will increase to several times a day and, ultimately, to a constant, knowing need to be online; regardless of how this affects other commitments. The fear which generally drives someone on this path is that you will miss a posting or piece of information. Suddenly the subject of your choice is all that matters in life!

Linking to Mental Health

As an addiction grows you will automatically move into an area of dependency; in many cases this will lead to the classic symptoms of mental illness. The issue that still needs to be addressed is whether the mental illness is a result of the internet addiction, or, if it is an underlying condition which is triggered by internet use. This distinction is important to identify the most successful way of treating sufferers.

A mental health illness triggered by internet addiction can be controlled, at least partially, by monitoring and reducing the internet use. This would need to be approached in the same way as any addiction. In the case of the internet addiction causing the mental health issue there is doubt whether the reduction of internet usage would then reverse the mental health effects.

It is certain that the internet is becoming a constant companion for many people; one look around you in the street will show you the number of people who are online at any given time. Whilst a link between this addiction and mental health issues has been established, much more research is required to confirm whether this is caused by the internet or simply enhanced by it. Only then can the best treatment method be devised and instigated.