Can reading more books prevent depression in young people? A University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine study suggests just that.
Adolescents who spend more time reading are much less likely to have depressive disorders than their peers, especially those peers who choose to listen to lots of music. This study was one of the first to measure media exposure using an intensive “real-life” methodology called ecological momentary assessment, in which the behavior of study participants was repeatedly sampled in real time. One hundred six participants took part in this study, 46 of whom were diagnosed with major depressive disorder. To monitor the students’ emotional health, the researchers called the participants as many as sixty times during five extended weekends over two months and asked them to report which of the following six media they were using: television or movies, music, video games, Internet, magazines or newspapers, or books.
The researchers found that young people who were exposed to the most music were 8.3 times more likely to be depressed than those who listened to music the least. In contrast, the ones who read books the most were only one-tenth as likely to be depressed. The other media exposures were not significantly associated with depression. The researchers concede that it’s not clear from the study whether depressed young people simply listen to more music to escape, or whether listening to large amounts of music leads to depression, or both. They stress, however, that reading books was clearly associated with a decreased likelihood of developing depression. This is an important finding, as young adults in the United States are reading ever fewer books and turning instead to other media for entertainment. Major depression, also referred to as clinical depression, is the leading cause of disability in the world. Its onset is common in adolescents and affects one in twelve teenagers, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.