Groundbreaking technologies change not only our daily lives and habits but also affect our perceptions, feelings, communication structures, and self image. Never before, however, has the discussion of the impact of a technological development on mental health been as intense as it has been since the introduction of the internet.
One would expect psychiatric experts to take the lead in this discussion. At present, most of the commentary by psychiatrists and psychologists seems to be as influenced by their own attitudes towards modern technology as it is by empirical data and scientific insight. There are reasons for this. While one need not look far for inflammatory discussions of „internet addiction,“ a scientific debate amongst psychiatric professionals on this topic is seldom to be found. Despite the fact that many of the accusations found in the media about internet use can be disproven, they continue to enjoy great popularity.
The dearth of psychiatric studies on the causal relationship between internet use and mental health stands in striking contrast to the enormous public interest on the topic. Other than anecdotal reports on the links between internet use and the development of symptoms in individuals suffering psychological problems, few scientific studies using in-depth questioning of such individuals exist – although this is exactly what is needed to answer important social questions. The difficulty of developing the appropriate research approach for such psychiatric studies can primarily be found in the complexity of the questioning: Is it the internet itself, or is it the difficulty individuals have in adapting to this technology, or is it the social changes coupled with this technical development that may lead to exhaustion and depression? And how can the effects of the internet on mental health be measured in a society in which interaction with the internet is so much an assumed part of everyday life that in 2013 it was acknowledged by the Constitutional Court as a „essential component for maintaining an individual's quality of life“?
The goal of this research project is to use scientifically grounded methodology to confront the question which has aroused so much public interest: does the internet cause or have a negative impact on psychological illnesses? A further goal is to conduct an interdisciplinary investigation into whether significant technological developments per se elicit specific stress reactions amongst the general population and how these stressors can be combated using the methods we have available to us today in addition to developing strategies for the future. Within the framework of this three year interdisciplinary research project „The Internet and Mental Health“ we will work on pressing questions about the effects of internet use on mental health in youth and how to deal with internet-related conflicts in the family.
- Prof. Dr. Andreas Heinz (Charité Berlin)
- Dr. Jan Kalbitzer (Wissenschaftlicher Leiter, Charité Berlin)
- Prof. Dr. Thorsten Quandt (Universität Münster)
- Dr. Tobias Matzner (Universität Tübingen)
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