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A recent article has indicated that TV watching is higher in teenagers who later develop depression (see an article reporting on it here:  TV and depression). Now, there is a temptation to advocate that children shouldn’t watch any TV, but that would be a bit of an over reaction (those who were later diagnosed with depression watched 2.64 hours of TV a day versus 2.28 – that’s only 20 minutes difference) . However, there is wisdom in looking at what we’re watching on TV, why we’re watching it, and how it is affecting us.

TV can be bad for us if we’re using it to consistently escape from reality. TV can be very involving, and offer us a chance to relax, and get away from the stresses of the world – and it is entertaining! This is good, but if we spend too much time on such things, and avoid dealing with issues this can become negative.

TV can also be bad for us if we buy into it’s unrealistic world view. Depending on the shows you watch, the characters portrayed on TV are unvariably attractive, witty, have exciting lives filled with action and romance. If we compare our lives to life on screen we might find ourselves lacking, no matter how worthwhile our own lives actually are. The values that TV can promote may look exciting, but they are often removed from reality.

So, if you tend to watch a lot of TV,  it’s worth a think about it; what effect is TV having on you? Are you using it to escape from reality? Are you buying into unrealistic worldviews? If not, continue to enjoy it, but if so, this could be contributing to depression, and it might be worth changing your mindset, or your habits, or both.

You have probably heard of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), a popular form of talking therapy. One study found CBT to be as effective as antidepressants to treat depression, with around half the participants showing recovery (around 80% showing recovery if they’re also on antidepressants – if you want to look up the original study, see here).

A new form of CBT is Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), which combines CBT with mindfulness, a concept from eastern meditation practice. CBT is concerned with dealing with changing your thoughts, with the idea that if you can replace negative thoughts with realistic thoughts, this will affect your emotions in a positive manner. Mindfulness is intended to complement this by enabling you to become more aware of what is going on in your mind, and with this perspective you are more able to let negative thoughts come and go without them spiralling downwards.

It may sound a bit mystical, but it has potential. If you’re interested to know more, you could check it out on Wikipedia article, or the MBCT website. If you wanted to try out some mindfulness exercises, I found a couple of exercises on google that look ok: The Virtual Mindfullness Center (a variety of different exercises, follow the links), The meditation site (there’s a lot of advertising and links on this one, I’d just stick with the exercises in the main text).

March 2009