Can increased use of social media cause depression? Study finds a link between the two
According to the analysis, young adults who used more than 300 minutes per day were 2.8 times as likely to become depressed within six months
More time spent on social media may be linked to developing depression, according to researchers. They found that young adults who increased their use of social media were significantly more likely to develop depression within six months. Compared to people who used less than 120 minutes per day of social media, for example, young adults who used more than 300 minutes per day were 2.8 times as likely to become depressed within six months.
“Most prior work in this area has left us with the chicken-and-egg question. We know from other large studies that depression and social media use tend to go together, but it’s been hard to figure out which came first. This new study sheds light on these questions because high initial social media use led to increased rates of depression. However, initial depression did not lead to any change in social media use,” explains Dr Brian Primack, dean of the College of Education and Health Professions and professor of public health at the University of Arkansas.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one out of every six adults will have depression at some time in their life. Depression affects about 16 million American adults every year. Anyone can get depressed, and depression can happen at any age and in any type of person, says the agency.
“Many people who experience depression also have other mental health conditions. Anxiety disorders often go hand in hand with depression. People who have anxiety disorders struggle with intense and uncontrollable feelings of anxiety, fear, worry, and/or panic. These feelings can interfere with daily activities and may last for a long time,” caution experts.
The latest report, which is scheduled for publication in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, is based on a study of 1,000 US adults between the ages of 18 to 30. The team measured depression using a validated nine-item patient health questionnaire and asked participants about the amount of time they used social media on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, and Snapchat. Their analyses controlled for demographic factors like age, sex, race, education, income, and employment, and they included survey weights so the results would reflect the greater US population.
The results reveal a link between social media use and depression over time. According to Dr Cesar Escobar-Viera, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh and co-author of the analysis, one reason for the findings may be that social media takes up a lot of time. “Excess time on social media may displace forming more important in-person relationships, achieving personal or professional goals, or even simply having moments of valuable reflection,” he adds.
A social comparison may also underlie the findings. “Social media is often curated to emphasize positive portrayals. This can be especially difficult for young adults who are at critical junctures in life-related to identity development and feel that they can’t measure up to the impossible ideals they are exposed to,” explains co-author Jaime Sidani, and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh.
According to the investigators, the report is particularly important to consider amid the Covid-19 pandemic. “Now that it’s harder to connect socially in person, we’re all using more technology like social media. While I think those technologies certainly can be valuable, I’d also encourage people to reflect on which tech experiences are truly useful for them and which ones leave them feeling empty,” Primack suggests.