Aruhan Mu, Ziying Hong, Xiang Wu

Connecting through clicks: A longitudinal examination of internet use and depressive symptoms among middle‐ and old‐aged Chinese

  • General Medicine

AimWhile prior investigations into the influence of internet engagement on depressive symptoms in middle‐aged and older individuals have largely been favorable, concerns persist. Some research posits that internet use may detract from direct interpersonal interactions, elevating depression risks. Here, we scrutinize these contrasting views, endeavoring to delineate the relationship between internet use, social participation, and the ensuing depressive manifestations.MethodsWe analyzed nationally representative data from three consecutive waves (2013‐T1, 2015‐T2, 2018‐T3) of the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study survey. Measures of social participation encompassed formal social participation (i.e., attending clubs for mahjong, chess, sports, or other activities; participation in community organizations, volunteering, or enrolling in training courses) and informal social participation (i.e., interactions with friends or extending assistance to relatives, friends, or neighbors). Structural equation modeling was used to evaluate a focused longitudinal mediation model.ResultsOur dataset comprised 13 671 individuals aged 45 years or older. Baseline internet use was associated with a decrease in depressive symptoms by T3 ( = −0.143, SE = 0.055). The longitudinal association between internet use and the alleviation of depressive symptoms was partially mediated by enhanced formal social participation (indirect effect  = −0.023, SE = 0.011).ConclusionsFor developing nations such as China, grappling with a rapidly aging demographic and scarce mental health infrastructure, pioneering initiatives that merge digital and formal social participation might be a valuable component in a multifaceted approach to alleviate late‐life depression. Geriatr Gerontol Int 2024; ••: ••–••.

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