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Since the early years of Internet usage the debate has raged over whether it actually helps or hinders the development of social relationships and how those relationships and interactions may trigger depression.
Even in face-to-face interactions miscommunications and misunderstandings can happen, heightening stress and potentially triggering depression. The Internet is no different and has the added challenge in that without the face-to-face contact, one cannot hear the inflection of a person’s voice or read the facial expressions, which can in turn lead to misassumptions.
Internet Usage and Social Isolation
In “Breaking the Cycle of Social Interaction and Mental Illness,” we learned that there are two types of social isolation. Objective isolation is where a person is not involved in activities. Subjective isolation is the feeling or perception of lack of social support. In the right circumstances, Internet interaction has been found to alleviate stress and isolation through the development over time of meaningful relationships that are sometimes as deep as face-to-face relationships.
LaRose et al., in trying to explain the Internet Paradox (for an explanation click on the link below) discovered that the subjects studied were novice Internet users. Novice users who tended to be uncertain and unconfident in their abilities to use the computers and the Internet. Those users who had been on the Internet for two years or more, however, had learned the social niceties of communicating online and had formed some long-lasting friendships and associations. When those associations are formed, computer users have the feeling of belonging to a social network of like-minded individuals, of establishing meaningful friendships. Where social interaction on a personal level for many people can be a challenge, the Internet can open a gateway of opportunities to dispel loneliness and at least make people feel as though they have an outlet for expressing their feelings and getting feedback or support, or for just having fun.
This is particularly important for seniors.