Evidence from multinational observational studies showed that internet addiction was linked to higher rates of suicidal ideation and attempts, even after adjusting for potential confounding variables like depression.
“Since depression has been associated with both suicidal behaviors and internet addiction, the independent association between internet addiction and suicidality remains unclear, although it may be partly mediated by depression,” Ming-Kung Wu, MD, from the department of psychiatry, Kaohsiung Chang Gung Memorial Hospital and Chang Gung University College of Medicine in Taiwan, and colleagues wrote. “However, to our best knowledge, no meta-analysis has investigated the relationship between suicidal behaviors and internet addiction.”
In this systematic review and meta-analysis, researchers examined observational studies that looked at the link between internet addiction and suicidality. Wu and colleagues searched major electronic databases using internet addiction, internet gaming disorder, internet use disorder, pathological internet use, compulsive internet use or problematic internet use and suicide or depression as key words. They extracted data on the rates of suicidal ideation, planning and attempts in people with internet addiction and controls.
In total, 23 cross-sectional studies involving 270,596 participants and two prospective studies including 1,180 participants that investigated the relationship between suicide and internet addiction were included in this study. The participants with internet addiction were significantly more likely to have suicidal ideation (OR = 2.95), plan suicide (OR = 3.17) and attempt suicide (OR = 2.81). Moreover, people with internet addiction had higher severity of suicidal ideation.
When Wu and colleagues adjusted for demographic data and depression, the risk for suicidal ideation and attempts remained significantly higher in those with internet addiction (ideation aOR = 1.49; attempts aOR = 1.56). Results from subgroup analysis revealed a significantly greater prevalence rate of suicidal ideation in youth aged younger than 18 years (OR = 3.77; P < .001) compared with the rate seen in adults (OR = 1.96; P = .001). The studies included in this meta-analysis also showed that teenagers had the highest prevalence rate of internet addiction (18.7%).
The authors also found that individuals with internet gaming addiction may be at higher risk for suicide than those with internet addiction with other online activity, but more research is needed to reinforce this connection.
“The results of our meta-analysis may provide a direction for further studies to investigate internet addiction and may also provide evidence about the potentially negative effects of internet addiction,” Wu and colleagues wrote. “We also encourage further studies to investigate the difference between suicidal behaviors in those with internet gaming disorder and internet addiction with other types of internet activity. As the evidence in this study was mostly derived from cross-sectional studies, future prospective studies are necessary to confirm our findings.” – by Savannah Demko
Disclosure: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.