Using Skype to Beat the Blues: Longitudinal Data from a National Representative Sample

Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2019 Mar;27(3):254-262. doi: 10.1016/j.jagp.2018.10.014. Epub 2018 Oct 29.


Objectives: This study aimed to determine whether use of certain types of online communication technology is associated with subsequent depressive symptoms.

Design: Nationally representative, population-based prospective cohort.

Setting: Data were obtained from the 2012 and 2014 waves of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS).

Participants: 1,424 community-residing older adults (mean age, 64.8) in the United States.

Measurements: We examined associations between use of four communication technologies (email, social networks, video chat, and instant messaging) in 2012 and depressive symptoms (eight-item Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression scale) at two-year follow-up.

Results: 564 participants (39.6%) did not use any communication technologies, 314 (22.1%) used email only, and 255 (17.9%) used video chat (e.g., Skype). Compared to non-users (13.1%, 95% CI: 9.5-16.7%) or those who used only email (14.3%, 95% CI: 10.1-18.5%), users of video chat had approximately half the probability of depressive symptoms (6.9%, 95% CI: 3.5-10.3%, Wald Chi2 test, Chi2(1)=13.82, p < 0.001; 7.6%, 95% CI: 3.6-11.6, Wald Chi2 test, Chi2(1)=13.56, p < 0.001). Use of email, social media, and instant messaging were not associated with a lower risk of depression.

Conclusions: Older adults who use video chat such as Skype, but not other common communication technologies, have a lower risk of developing depression.

Keywords: Health and Retirement Survey; aging; communication technology; computer-mediated communication; depression; major depressive disorder; social interaction.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Depression / epidemiology*
  • Depression / prevention & control*
  • Electronic Mail
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Logistic Models
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Sampling Studies
  • Social Networking
  • Text Messaging
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Videoconferencing*