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Daily internet users 'have better mental health'

Tuesday July 28th 2020

Adults over 50 who use the internet more frequently are more likely to experience positive mental health and wellbeing, a new UK study reveals today.

The research, by a team at UCL, London, UK, is the first to examine the links between different internet usage and the associated impacts on mental health, and it shows that people from higher socioeconomic groups experience benefits to their mental wellbeing, while those in lower socioeconomic groups are less likely to.

The study, which is published in today’s Journal of Medical Internet Research, questioned more than 9,000 people over the age of 50, between 2012 and 2017.

The researchers found that those who used the internet daily experienced a positive long-term effect compared with those who used it monthly or less.

They measured satisfaction from a low of five to 35 and calculated that respondents who used the internet daily reported average life satisfaction scores of 26.12, compared to 24.44 for those who used the internet monthly or less.

Daily internet users also had a lower average depression score of 1.02, compared to 1.76 for those who had never used the internet, measured on a scale from zero to eight, with zero representing no depressive symptoms.

Over the six-year study period, the researchers noted that daily internet users experienced greater increases in their life satisfaction scores than those who used the internet weekly or never, and had the highest scores overall by the end of the study.

Adults in the wealthiest quantile were most likely to use the internet daily, with 31% of daily users from the most affluent group, while 9% of daily users were from the least affluent group.

The researchers found that the impact on mental wellbeing depended on why the internet was used. People who used the internet for communication and keeping in touch with others, specifically for sending emails, were more likely to report lower levels of depression, as well as better life satisfaction than those who did not.

Those who used the internet for ‘information access’, specifically job searches, had worse life satisfaction compared to those who did not, even when working status was taken into consideration.

Senior author Dr Stephen Jivraj, from UCL Epidemiology & Public Health, said: “While some studies suggest that spending an excessive amount of time on the internet correlates with negative mental health in younger age samples, our research suggests that more should be done to encourage internet use among older adults, especially as a tool for building and maintaining social ties to improve wellbeing. Initiatives such as installing public Wi-Fi in areas frequented by older people and in areas where usage may be low due to barriers to access and digital exclusion could help to address this.”

Co-author Dr Shaun Scholes, from UCL Epidemiology & Public Health, added: “It’s important to recognise that many older people have not learnt to use the internet as part of their job or education. While there isn’t one simple intervention that can increase internet usage in older age, we do recommend that policymakers encourage providers to consider adapting their products and interfaces to be more age-friendly.”

Sze Man Lam S, Jivraj S, Scholes S. Exploring the Relationship Between Internet Use and Mental Health Among Older Adults in England: Longitudinal Observational Study. Journal of Medical Internet Research. 28 July 2020; doi: 10.2196/15683.

Tags: General Health | Mental Health | UK News

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