Lengthy Social Media Use Linked to Depression

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Back in 2011 the American Academy of Pediatrics (APP) published a study warning about the effects of heavy social media usage on children, adolescents and families. The notion of a ‘Facebook depression’ was quickly disputed by some experts. I covered the story in my post, Facebook Time Not Linked to Depression but the emergence of new evidence continues to point to an association between the length of time spent using social media and depressive symptoms.

During 2014, Dr. Brian A. Primack., director of Pitt’s Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health, conducted a study sampling 1,787 U.S. adults between ages 19 – 32. Participants in the study used a variety of social media outlets for an average of 61 minutes a day, using accounts around 30 times per week. A quarter of the sample were found to have high indicators of depression with the most frequent users nearly three times more likely to develop depression. Should we be concerned?

According to the statistics portal Statista, Facebook has 1.55 billion monthly active users while 8th ranked Instagram has over 400 million users. If we account for WhatsApp, Twitter, Snapchat, Tumblr, etc, the count goes through the roof. With such big numbers it suggests that most people using social media find it a useful and presumably rewarding experience. Some appear not to, but as study author Dr. Primack suggests, there is no definitive evidence that lengthy social media use causes depression - but an association does appear to exist.

A report in The Independent newspaper quotes Primack as saying, ‘one strong possibility is that people who are already having depressive symptoms start to use social media more, perhaps because they do not feel the energy or drive to engage in as many direct social relationships.’ Alternatively social media can portray idealized lifestyles that some people find hard to live up to. ‘As with many things in the social sciences,’ Primack says, ‘it may also be that both of these directions are accurate [with] an implication of a potentially vicious circle.’

I know that many of my colleagues routinely ask questions about social media use as a part of their overall clinical assessment. Within this context it seems that the nature of social media use is critical. Online bullying and trolling are some of the most negative experiences to which young people can be subjected. Overall, there’s a pressing need for greater understanding of the risk factors associated with social media use as well as better understanding of how social media might be used to help identify or alleviate problems

Additional Sources:

The report summary is available here.

Liu yi Lin, Jaime E. Sidani, Ariel Shensa, Ana Radovic, Elizabeth Miller, Jason B. Colditz, Beth L. Hoffman, Leila M. Giles, Brian A. Primack. ASSOCIATION BETWEEN SOCIAL MEDIA USE AND DEPRESSION AMONG U.S. YOUNG ADULTSDepression and Anxiety, 2016; DOI:10.1002/da.22466

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