More than just a communication medium: What older adults say about television and depression

Giang T. Nguyen, Marsha N. Wittink, Genevra F. Murray, Frances K. Barg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Older adults watch more television than younger people do. Television's role in mental health has been described in the general population, but less is known about how older adults think of television in the context of depression. Design and Methods: Using a semistructured interview created to help clinicians understand how older adults conceptualize depression diagnosis and treatment, we conducted a qualitative study of 102 patients aged 65 years or older. We recruited them from primary care offices and interviewed them in their homes. During our analysis, we found that many respondents offered spontaneous thoughts about the relationship between television and depression. We extracted all television-related content from the interview transcripts and identified themes by using grounded theory. Results: Participants cited television as a way to identify depression in themselves or others (either through overuse or lack of interest) or as a way to cope with depressive symptoms. Some felt that television could be harmful, particularly when content was high in negativity. A substantial number of participants discussed more than one of these themes, and a few mentioned all three. Married people were more likely to discuss television's role in identifying depression. Participants with low education more often mentioned that television could be helpful, whereas those with a history of depression treatment were more likely to discuss television's potential harm. Implications: Researchers should conduct further studies to help them better understand the relationship among depression, television viewing, and individual viewpoints concerning television's role in geriatric depression. An exploration of these issues may yield new approaches to help clinicians address depression in late life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)300-310
Number of pages11
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2008


  • Aged
  • Depression
  • Media
  • Mental health
  • Primary health care
  • Television

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gerontology
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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