Jerusalem: Excessive internet communications through social networking sites such as Facebook may lead to psychotic symptoms, including delusions, anxiety and confusion, according to a new study.
A study by Tel Aviv University found a connection between gradual development and exacerbation of psychotic symptoms and intensified use of computer communications.
"As internet access becomes increasingly widespread, so do related psychopathologies such as internet addiction and delusions related to the technology and to virtual relationships. Computer communications such as Facebook and chat groups are an important part of this story," said Dr Uri Nitzan of Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine.
He presented three in-depth case studies linking psychotic episodes to internet communications.
Patients shared some crucial characteristics, including loneliness or vulnerability due to the loss of or separation from a loved one, relative inexperience with technology, and no prior history of psychosis or substance abuse.
All three of Nitzan's patients sought refuge from a lonely situation and found solace in intense virtual relationships.
Although these relationships were positive at first, they eventually led to feelings of hurt, betrayal, and invasion of privacy, reported Nitzan.
"All of the patients developed psychotic symptoms related to the situation, including delusions regarding the person behind the screen and their connection through the computer," he said.
Two patients began to feel vulnerable as a result of sharing private information, and one even experienced tactile hallucinations, believing that the person beyond the screen was physically touching her.
"The good news is that all of the patients, who willingly sought out treatment on their own, were able to make a full recovery with proper treatment and care," Nitzan said in a statement.
Since social media are now such an important part of our culture, mental health professionals should not overlook their influence when speaking to patients, Nitzan suggested.
"When you ask somebody about their social life, it's very sensible to ask about Facebook and social networking habits, as well as Internet use. How people conduct themselves on the Internet is quite important to psychiatrists, who shouldn't ignore this dimension of their patients' behaviour patterns," Nitzan said.
The study was published in the Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences.