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  • Writer's pictureNidhi Trivedi

Netflix – a mental health issue or a coping strategy?

Even though this article might make me sound like a TV addict and a Netflix proponent, I write this out of frustration at the mixed messages we get about consumption of Television. On one hand, we are bombarded with Netflix, Hulu, Prime, TV, Xfinity, OnDemand or god knows what all, and on the other, I keep reading articles on how TV will worsen my depression and anxiety. It almost made me question the legitimacy of my introversion. So, I decided to examine and introspect:

How Netflix might affect mental health negatively?

“In a 2016 study, binge watchers were 35 percent more likely to experience anxiety or depression than those who adhered to a more regularly TV consumption pattern. Watching late at night can also disrupt our ability to fall into a deep and restorative sleep, adding to stress levels.” – I was not able to find the details about this particular study that was mentioned in this article –;

People with depression tend to isolate due to low motivation, fatigue, and recurrent negative thoughts about themselves that might further deter them from attempting to take an action to change their circumstances. It is likely that a person with depression who has a Netflix subscription will be more likely to binge watch tv shows than attempt to do other activities in the world. Therefore, Netflix might play a role in encouraging that isolation and low motivation.

In addition, if a show is interesting enough, it might arouse the sympathetic system which might lead to unnecessary excitement resulting in sleep disruptions, increased restlessness, and anxious mood. Of course, it is easier to binge watch a series of Frasier/Happy Valley than force yourself to sleep at bedtime. Therefore, individuals who watch more Netflix might be more restless, anxious and sleep-deprived.

Is it that bad?

I agree – Netflix might exacerbate or encourage someone’s depressed and anxious mood. But, how bad is it really compared to other maladaptive ways of coping (e.g. 4-5 beers a night, 2 servings of French fries and 15 ounces of coke, an unhealthy relationship)? Also, how important it is to consume Netflix minimally or stay Netflix-sober in a world where entertainment predominates many conversations?

In our generation, a 2-yr-old knows how to work an i-phone, an 8-yr-old who uses a tablet at school to learn math, and most adults communicate through different mediums about information available all over the internet. Communication is no longer limited to face-to-face conversations but has even extended to non-verbal’s of the emoticons we share via text messages. Within these complex layers of communication and shared information through the internet, I wonder if Netflix, a medium of entertainment and knowledge, is really a curse or a boon?

When Netflix might be a coping strategy?

In my experience with working with individuals with severe mood-related difficulties, some people experience a lot of guilt, shame, low self-esteem and anxiety associated with watching TV. They admit to watching a few hours of tv everyday as though they have committed a huge crime. Many don’t even let themselves experience joy out of watching tv as it is “not good to watch too much tv.” For people with Depression, Netflix becomes yet another reminder of the failure to engage in other goal-directed activities or it could be associated with feelings of low motivation. Some fear that if they keep watching Netflix, they might never find the motivation to do any other activity or find a meaningful relationship.

For people struggling with Agoraphobia (fear of public places), severe depression, severe anxiety, limited social support, alcohol dependence (working on sobriety), transitions,  adjustments or loss, Netflix could serve as a distraction, even though it is temporary.  For individuals who ruminate or find it difficult to self-soothe, it might not be the worst idea to start with a Netflix tv show.

Ways Netflix can be utilized effectively?

Our lives revolve around technology and its mediums for entertainment, and yet we continue to bash Netflix. The problem is not Netflix, rather a deeper issue that could be examine in the context of therapy, without self-blaming for utilizing Netflix to manage your mood.

Just like everything, Netflix can be helpful or harmful; and like any other technology, we need to figure out ways in which it would be utilized effectively.

  1. Netflix lets you travel to different corners of the world through various documentaries and travel shows without you having to leave the comfort of your living room couch. (I sound like a Netflix ambassador, but I swear I am not getting paid for this)

  2. Netflix has some shows and documentaries that could serve a short-term goal of learning about a specific topic.

  3. Netflix has several tv shows and movies that demystify stigma about mental health issues. (example:

  4. Netflix can serve as an immediate support system or a coping strategy if you are in the midst of replacing a maladaptive coping strategy (e.g. unhealthy relational pattern, substance use, negative thoughts) with an adaptive coping strategy (e.g. increased activity, exercise, seeking social support).

  5. Netflix provides entertainment in the safety of your own home.

  6. Netflix helps suppress negative thoughts or distract you from rumination. While not intentional, it can serve as an effective thought-stopping exercise, which helps with management of anxious mood.

The best way to cope is being able to adapt to a new or a difficult situation through use all of the available resources. While not the best coping strategy, I encourage everyone around me to not feel guilty, worried, sad, or anxious about utilizing Netflix. It is readily available, and compared to other ways of coping, it is much better, safer, and productive, if used to accomplish short-term learning goals.

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