Could Limiting Social Media Use Improve Your Mental Health?

By Beth Leipholtz 11/12/18

A new study examined whether excessive use of social media contributed to feelings of depression and loneliness.

person overusing social media may be harming their mental health

The more time you spend scrolling through social media, the more likely you could be contributing to your own feelings of depression and loneliness. 

A new study from Penn State researchers has determined that social media use correlates with both depression and feeling lonely. 

The study was led by Melissa Hunt of Penn State’s psychology department and involved 143 students from the university. The students were broken into two groups—one being told to limit social media use (Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat) for 10 minutes per app, the other instructed to continue using it as normal—and then monitored for three weeks. 

Over the course of the study, students were assessed each week through testing for depression, social support and more. Their social media use was monitored through the iOS battery use screen.

According to the study authors, levels of loneliness and depression decreased significantly over the three weeks. 

“The limited use group showed significant reductions in loneliness and depression over three weeks compared to the control group,” authors wrote. "Both groups showed significant decreases in anxiety and fear of missing out over baseline, suggesting a benefit of increased self-monitoring. Our findings strongly suggest that limiting social media use to approximately 30 minutes per day may lead to significant improvement in well-being.”

On the other hand, areas such as self-esteem and social support did not increase over the three weeks. Following up with the students was difficult, so authors were unable to fully determine if prior feelings returned or habit changes were implemented. 

According to TechCrunch, Hunt states that by taking time away from social media, people are likely to instead focus on more fulfilling things in their lives. 

“Some of the existing literature on social media suggests there’s an enormous amount of social comparison that happens,” she said. “When you look at other people’s lives, particularly on Instagram, it’s easy to conclude that everyone else’s life is cooler or better than yours. When you’re not busy getting sucked into clickbait social media, you’re actually spending more time on things that are more likely to make you feel better about your life.”

The researchers did point out that their study was limiting. In future studies, they state, it could help to have a more diverse group of participants, include more social media outlets, extend the timeframe of the experiment and allow for more comprehensive follow-up with participants. Researchers also state that the set time for social media use could sway results.  

Whatever the case, Hunt says, it’s important to take time away from technology to connect with others in your life. 

“In general, I would say, put your phone down and be with the people in your life,” she stated. 

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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, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.