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Binge-Watching Netflix Could Impact Your Mental Health

written by Natasha Tracy B.Sc - Jan 30, 2017

Natasha Tracy is a professional writer and author of the book “Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar”. She currently works as a freelancer for Canadian pharmacy online and elsewhere..

While binge-watching television has been possible ever since shows have been available on DVD or DVR, it was the introduction of Netflix and other streaming services that really made binge-watching popular. Now, an incredibly popular show like House of Cards releases an entire season of episodes all at once and older shows are available in their entirety. And once people start watching, they often just have to know what happens next. And Netflix makes the binge-watch that much easier by automatically playing the next episode at the end of the previous one. Binge-watching has become so popular that Collins Dictionary even declared “binge-watch” the word of the year for 2015.

But while binge-watching may be common and some even look forward to binge-watching their favorite shows, can binge-watching a service like Netflix actually negatively impact your mental health?

Binge-Watching Becomes Socially Acceptable

While sitting in front of a television for hours watching episode after episode might once have been frowned upon, binge-watching has now become socially acceptable. In fact, ads now even encourage using streaming services like Netflix to binge-watch. When studied, media influence and social acceptability of binge-watching was found to be a predictor of self-reported binge-watching. In other words, the people getting the message that it’s okay to binge-watch are likely to do more of it.

Post Binge-Watching Depression and Emptiness

Some people regret their decision to binge-watch their favorite shows and even feel a post-binge emptiness as was expressed by Twitter used @_nicky_macy: “I have PBWD, post binge-watching depression.”

While this “depression” isn’t a mental illness, it can negatively impact one’s mental health. Excessive binge-watching may be related to other obsessive behaviors such as binge-reading and may cause some to even call themselves “addicts.” One such self-identified “addict”, Wenlei Ma, expresses her lament over binge-watching: “. . . just like an addict on a bender, by the time it was over, I was exhausted and filled with regret.”

Ma blames her binge-watching partially on her younger generation who wants everything now. Her concern over this behavior has taken her so far as to say, “. . . let’s go back to a week-to-week schedule. If it’s great content, I’ll wait another seven days for the next bit.”

Binge-Watching and Mental Health

Television is the most common leisure activity, according to the Bureau of Labor Statics. On average, Americans spend almost three hours a day watching television and it accounts for more than 50% of their daily leisure activities.

But excessive television watching has always been associated with health problems. Due to the sedate nature of the activity, it puts people at risk for obesity and diabetes.

But what about mental health? A 2014 study out of Texas tied binge-watching (as defined as two-to-five hours of consecutive watching) to feelings of loneliness and depression. It also found that those who binge-watch lack the ability to stop, suggesting that binge-watching may, on some level, be an addictive behavior.

The Guardian also conducted a study that found that those who binge-watch report higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression.

However, while binge-watching may be tied to feelings of loneness and depression, it’s unknown if binge-watching contributes to these feelings or whether those who feel that way tend to binge-watch. In other words, those experiencing depression and/or anxiety may simply be binge-watching in an attempt to alleviate these feelings for a period of time. However, as post-binge emptiness occurs for many, maybe people are actually intensifying feelings of loneliness, depression and anxiety once the binge is over.

All that said, even researchers admit that bingeing, in and of itself, is not necessarily bad even if unprecedented. Raj Devasagayam, a marketing professor at Siena College a lead author of the 2014 Texas study says, “Just because I didn't [binge-watch] at my age or growing up, it doesn't mean that it's wrong.”

Feeling Depressed, Lonely or Anxious and Want to Binge-Watch?

Perhaps the next time you set aside a weekend to binge-watch Orange Is the New Black or House of Cards, remember that if you’re trying to escape something, it will still be there once the binge is over and, maybe, even feel a little worse.

References, ‘That’s It, I’m Done with Binge-Watching’. March 2016., Does Binge-Watching Make Us Depressed? Good Question. February 2015.

The Guardian, Is Binge-Watching Bad for Your Mental Health. March 2016.


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