The widespread use of the internet has sparked growing concern over its effect on public health, particularly on mental health and well-being. However, until now, no international research on the internet’s impact on mental health has been conducted.
Led by the University of Hertfordshire, the world’s first international network has been established to further understand the issue.
The collaboration project has set out its research proposals for the next four years, published in the peer-reviewed journal European Neuropsychopharmacology. It will focus on issues linked to internet use, such as gambling, pornography, gaming and excessive social media use.
The World Health Organisation has recognised Problematic Use of the Internet (PUI) as a mental health disorder since 2014, and will include gaming disorder in the forthcoming International Classification of Mental Disorders. Despite increasing awareness, research into these areas has been fragmented, and studies involving large numbers of participants have not been conducted.
To remedy this, the EU’s European Cooperation in Science and Technology programme has awarded 520,000 euros in funding to a PUI research network, currently including 123 researchers from 38 countries.
Measuring the internet’s impact on mental health
It is hoped that the research will shed light on what causes such problems, and how society can best deal with them. It will focus on developing age and culturally appropriate ways of diagnosing PUI, as well as looking into the role of genetics and personality features in the condition.
Researchers will also investigate whether it is possible to identify biomarkers for the disorder, to help improve early detection and intervention.
The network’s chair, consultant psychiatrist Naomi Fineberg, a professor at The University of Hertfordshire said:
“Problematic Use of the Internet is a serious issue. Just about everyone uses the Internet, but information on problem use is still lacking. Research has often been confined to individual countries or problematic behaviours such as internet gaming. So we don’t know the real scale of the problem, what causes problematic use, or whether different cultures are more prone to problematic use than others.”