Binge Watching TV Linked to Loneliness and Depression

Study – Binge Watching TV Linked to Loneliness and Depression

A new study has found that those who struggle with loneliness and depression are more likely to “binge-watch” TV shows. Binge-watching is the practice of watching TV for long-periods of time, ordinarily of one programme – like watching a whole season of House of Cards or Breaking Bad in a single, marathon day. The new study may have a somewhat expected finding – lonely people are more likely to watch a lot of TV – it also points to a new way of looking at binge-watching. Is it really as harmless as we might imagine, or does it share characteristics with an addiction?

The Study – Is Binge-Watching TV Related to Mental Health?

The study isn’t yet available in full peer-reviewed form, but is set to be presented at an upcoming conference, and the basic method and findings have been released to the press. The researchers surveyed 316 young adults – between 18 and 29 years old – on how much they watched TV, whether or not they binge-watched, and about various psychological symptoms, in particular feelings of depression, loneliness and difficulty self regulating (controlling impulses).

The findings showed that both depression and loneliness were associated with binge-watching TV, which was interpreted as meaning that these individuals used TV to cope with negative emotions. In addition, the results indicate that problems with self-regulation are also associated with binge-watching – effectively having more difficulty avoiding clicking “Next” and watching another episode, even if they know they have more important things to do.

Is Binge-Watching TV an Addiction?

Although many of these findings are things we’d either expect or have experienced ourselves, it does suggest an intriguing parallel between addictive behaviour and binge-watching TV. Feelings of loneliness and depression are frequently involved in cases of addiction, and much like a drug addict may use cocaine or heroin to ease these unpleasant emotions or a binge-eater might gorge on fatty, salty foods, a binge-watcher might stream a whole series of a TV programme to “forget” their reality. Of course, this isn’t a healthy way to deal with emotions, and that’s really the issue, with both bingeing behaviours and addictions.

Additionally, the fact that difficulties with self-regulation were associated with binge-watching is quite obviously addiction-like. This has parallels with how problem drinkers, for example, often can’t open a bottle of alcohol without finishing the whole thing.

Lead author Yoon Hi Sung draws attention to other similarities with addiction, “When binge-watching becomes rampant, viewers may start to neglect their work and their relationships with others. Even though people know they should not, they have difficulty resisting the desire to watch episodes continuously.” Sung also points out that physical harm such as fatigue and obesity may be related to binge-watching.

The findings are very suggestive, but since binge-watching is a relatively new phenomenon (only really becoming prevalent when services like Netflix and “anytime” TV became more commonplace), there is very limited research on it to date. However, the clear similarities between binge-watching and addictions mean that this definitely won’t be the last thing we learn about mental health and binge-watching.

Conclusion – Ask Yourself Why You’re Watching

Although it’s too soon to make definitive statements, the study offers good reason to question your binge-watches: are you trying to avoid something in your real life by escaping into a televisual fantasy? Do you use TV programmes to soothe your emotions? Do you struggle to stop watching a series once you’ve started? While it’s not possible to be certain based on current evidence, if you answer yes to these three questions there’s a chance there’s a bigger issue at play than simply wanting to watch a TV programme.