Binge-watching has officially been linked to depression

I know. In other news, the sky is blue, water is wet, and Gwyneth Paltrow’s not a reliable source of medical advice. I don’t think anyone’s likely to faint with surprise that binge-watching shows (on TV or via services like Netflix and Amazon Prime) has been linked to feeling low. But there’s been little research until now that proves there’s a connection.

Yoon Hi Sung, Eun Yeon Kang, and Wei-Na Lee from the University of Texas surveyed 316 people aged 18-29 about how often they watched TV (on any device), how often they binge-watched, and how often they felt lonely, depressed, and like they had little willpower. They found that more lonely and depressed people felt, the more likely they were to binge watch to try to cheer themselves up. And the less disciplined and motivated people felt, the more likely they were to keep watching a series, even when they had other things they needed to do. (Netflix automatically loading the next ep doesn’t help.)

The researchers say that this can easily become an addictive behaviour, and that we might not think that’s a serious problem compared to say, drug dependency, it can still be bad for us. Sung points out that being inactive for long periods isn’t healthy and can make us feel more fatigued, and that binge-watching could be self-destructive. ‘When binge-watching becomes rampant, viewers may start to neglect their work and their relationships with others,’ she says.

The study suggests that depression triggers binge-watching rather than the other way round, but Sung and her team seem pretty sure this form of self-medication doesn’t help our mental health – at least not long term. But they also don’t provide any alternatives for when things seem bleak, it’s the middle of the night, and you need something to take your mind off your problems. Let’s face it, there are a lot worse things you could be doing than lusting after Robin Wright’s wardrobe.

Image via Esther Vargas’s Flickr.

Diane Shipley