Can A Facebook Break Help Mental Health?

By Beth Leipholtz 02/04/19

A new study examined whether deactivating Facebook could have a positive effect on mental health.

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person opening the facebook app with their cellphone

The connection between social media and mental health is nothing new, as more research implies that regular use of platforms such as Facebook can take a negative toll on users. 

In fact, a new “Gold Standard” study from Stanford University and New York University researchers indicates that deactivating Facebook can have positive effects on one’s mental health. 

According to Fast Company, researchers in the study sought out 2,844 Facebook users via Facebook ads. They asked the users to take part in an in-depth questionnaire about “overall well-being, political views, and daily routine.”

Of those, half were randomly chosen to be paid in order to deactivate their Facebook accounts for a full month. The accounts were monitored to make sure they remained deactivated. Over the four weeks, researchers studied the moods of the participants. 

“Deactivation caused small but significant improvements in well-being, and in particular on self-reported happiness, life satisfaction, depression, and anxiety,” researchers wrote. “Effects on subjective well-being as measured by responses to brief daily text messages are positive but not significant.”

Despite the increase in well-being, researchers made sure to note that Facebook is beneficial for users in some cases. 

“Our participants’ answers in free response questions and follow-up interviews make clear the diverse ways in which Facebook can improve people’s lives, whether as a source of entertainment, a means to organize a charity or an activist group, or a vital social lifeline for those who are otherwise isolated,” they wrote. “Any discussion of social media’s downsides should not obscure the basic fact that it fulfills deep and widespread needs.”

In conclusion, researchers noted that by not using Facebook, overall online activity was reduced and replaced by real-life activities such as spending time with friends and family and watching Netflix. They also added that participants who deactivated their accounts were found to have “lower levels of political polarization and news knowledge, and an increase in subjective well-being.”

“We find that while deactivation makes people less informed, it also makes them less polarized by at least some measures, consistent with the concern that social media have played some role in the recent rise of polarization in the U.S.,” researchers wrote. 

Additionally, researchers found that participants who had deactivated their accounts continued to spend less time on Facebook even in the weeks after the study had ended. 

“The trajectory of views on social media—with early optimism about great benefits giving way to alarm about possible harms—is a familiar one,” researchers concluded. “Innovations from novels to TV to nuclear energy have had similar trajectories. Along with the excellent existing work by other researchers, we hope that our analysis can help move the discussion from simplistic caricatures to hard evidence, and to provide a sober assessment of the way a new technology affects both individual people and larger social institutions.”

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at www.lifetobecontinued.com, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.

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