Are you constantly hitting refresh on your favorite site or spend countless hours surfing the web? If you answered yes, you may be depressed.

Internet usage was shown to vary between people who showed signs of depression and people who had no signs of depression. People who had symptoms of depression were more likely to use file-sharing programs and seemingly cruise around sites at random.

Researchers led by Sriram Chellappan from the Missouri University of Science and Technology, collected internet usage data from 216 college students enrolled at the university. The usage data was collected anonymously without interfering with the student’s normal internet usage for a month.

The students were tested to see if they had symptoms of depression and analyzed internet usage based on the results. Depressed students tended to use the internet in much different ways than their non-depressed classmates.

Depressed students used file-sharing programs, like torrents or online sharing sites, more than non-depressed students. Depressed students also chatted more and sent more emails out. Online video viewing and game playing were also more popular for depressed students.

Using the internet to switch from sending an email to watching a video, back to emailing and finally chatting in a seemingly random pattern was also more common in depressed students. Researchers believe this haphazard use of the internet is a result of students having difficulty concentrating, which is a common trait associated with depression.

The study may be more valuable for future research because the data did not rely on the student’s answering questions on their usage. Self-reporting of usage may be inaccurate as students estimate how much time they use the internet. Students may forget about how much time they spend in front of the computer or may answer questions in a way that is the most pleasing to others.

Consistent internet usage was erratic for the depressed students. Some of the students may be spending hours online for one day and not use the internet the next two days.

This pattern of usage is particularly interesting because it may help separate heavy internet users from depressed users. Some young adults may be tech-savvy and web driven, constantly using the internet for new sources of information or use the latest gadgets and applications.

Switching between programs and services may be common among these heavy internet users but the key thing is that these users may be more consistent internet users than someone who is depressed. The switching between programs or websites may have some structure for heavy internet users as they surf their favorite sites.

The study was published by the IEEE Technology and Society Magazine.