Teens' TV exposure may be harbinger of future depression

May 13, 2009

Teenagers, especially males, who watch television frequently may be more likely to be depressed as they approach adulthood, a study in the Archives of General Psychiatry (February 2009) shows.

Teenagers, especially males, who watch television frequently may be more likely to be depressed as they approach adulthood, a study in the Archives of General Psychiatry (February 2009) shows.

The media-related activities of approximately 4,100 healthy non-depressed youth were analyzed by Brian Primack, MD, and colleagues. The teenagers were to report how many hours of radio, TV, or videos they watched or listened to in a week's span. Researchers found that the youngsters averaged 5.68 hours of media exposure daily, 2.3 hours of which were attributed directly to TV watching.

At a seven-year follow-up, when the adolescents had reached an average age of 21.8, a total of 308 of the participants (7.2%) showed signs of depression.

The study showed that each hour of TV exposure daily was attributed to a statistically significant higher likelihood of going on to depression as a young adult. However, young women with the same amount of exposure were less likely to have symptoms of depression later in adulthood.

TV appeared to be the real offender in terms of depression. Researchers pointed out that there was not a "consistent relationship between development of depressive symptoms and exposure to videocassettes, computer games, or radio."

Researchers posit several reasons as to why TV exposure may contribute to depression. They include sleep interruption, subliminal media messages that may reinforce aggression, and messages that affect identity growth.