Watching Too Much TV May Be Related to Hidden Depression: Study
Wed, April 21, 2021

Watching Too Much TV May Be Related to Hidden Depression: Study


A new study showed that watching TV may increase the risk of depression. As such, reducing the time spent on watching TV could lower the odds of developing depressive symptoms.

The association between depression and watching TV was investigated by researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital. They found that among many activities, watching too much TV could substantially increase the chance of developing depressive symptoms. If the extra time spent on TV was allocated on social connections, a person would fulfill their social need. This could strengthen the resilience of a person against depression. They published their findings in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

The Popularity of Traditional TV

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, standard TV is one of the favorite past time of millions of people worldwide. Many can spend hours watching TV, especially if they have auxiliary items like a DVD player. Even with innovations in digital services, many individuals still find standard TV entertaining. In some cases, people are multitasking – watching TV and surfing the web at the same time. This shows that TV will remain relevant for years to come.

According to Statista, a German portal for statistics, the US was the world's biggest TV lovers in 2014. In Ofcom's International Market Report for that year, Americans spent an average of 282 minutes each day watching TV. It was followed by Japan at 264, Italy at 262, Russia and Spain at 239 each, Brazil at 224, Germany and France at 221 each, the UK at 220, and China at 157 average minutes per day.



Among American TV viewers, many could multitask while watching TV. Out of 2,076 US consumers surveyed in November 2014 by Deloitte, 32% could surf the web, 28% could read emails, 28% could entertain text messages, 26% could use social media platforms, 19% could speak on the phone, 17% could write emails, 16% could shop online, 16% could play video games, and 13% could do microblogging while watching TV. Only 10% of those respondents would do nothing aside from watching TV.

In a survey by Statista in October 2018, the daily average on-demand TV and video viewing by age group was estimated in select countries. Among adults 18 to 24 years, the average hours spent on TV were 1.28 in Japan, 2.87 in the US, 3.08 in the UK, 2.35 in Spain, 1.88 in Italy, 2.1 in Germany, and 2.22 in France. Among adults 25 to 34 years, the average hours spent were one in Japan, 3.13 in the US, 3.4 in the UK, 1.63 in Italy and Spain each, 1.55 in Germany, and 1.38 in France. Among adults aged 35 to 44 years, the average hours spent were 0.57 in Japan, 3.03 in the US, 2.1 in the UK, 0.93 in Spain, 1.15 in Italy, 0.93 in Germany, and 0.72 in France.



Watching TV Associated with Depression Risk

Experts do not recommend people to spend too much time on electronic or digital devices. This is because excessive use of these items can neglect one vital aspect of life: socialization. Although the pandemic forces people to keep their distances, the situation did not force people to avoid communicating with family and friends. Whatever method is possible, people should maintain their social connection.

The main reason why a person needs to maintain their social connection, no matter how small or big, is due to the protective effect against depression. Being alone and no one to talk to can be significantly detrimental to mental health. And according to a new study, people should allocate more time socializing and less time watching TV.

The study focused on the wide range of potentially modifiable factors for depression. Researchers systemically screened and validated for these factors to determine the most influential on depressive symptoms. A total of 106 modifiable factors were extracted from the baseline data. These factors included lifestyle, social, and environmental variables. Lifestyle variables included exercise, diet, sleep, and media. Social variables included social engagement and social support. And finally, environmental variables included green space and pollution.

The incidence of depression was calculated via minimal depressive symptoms at baseline and clinically significant symptoms at follow-up. The Mendelian randomization showed three factors with the highest scores in affecting depressive symptoms. Confiding in others had the odds ratio of 0.76, while daytime napping had the odds ratio of 1.34. Watching TV had an odds ratio of 1.09.



Seth Meyers, a clinical psychologist, explained in the US magazine Psychology Today what those figures represented. Social connections could provide a protective effect against depressive symptoms. In some societies, certain constructs like friendship, romance, and marriage are highly valued. If these constructs were not supplemented, a person's purpose in life could suffer. So, maintaining social connections would fulfill the purpose and avoid falling into depression. When the sense of belonging has been achieved, the more a person would feel positive in life.

The link between depression and watching TV was apparent in the study because those who had more time watching TV might lack social connection. At a glance, they might feel fine for a while without socializing. However, over time, the person would feel alone because they had no one to speak to except the TV. TV could not enable them to express their feelings and thoughts. While a social connection could allow them to express their burdens with another human being. The engagement might not solve the problem but the socialization could inspire and motivate them to push forward.

In the ongoing pandemic, the study suggests keeping an eye on those who are living alone and have a small social connection. Many young adults and elderlies are in this situation and oftentimes they do not feel like seeking social support. Yet deep inside they are interested in speaking with someone else, maybe to share their experiences throughout the day. They may spend more time watching TV to fill that loneliness. It is a possible clue for relatives and friends to consider that someone may be feeling alone or depressed. Concerned parties should help divert those extra hours from TV to interesting conversations online.