Does Heavy Social Media Use Lead to Depression?

By Valerie Tejeda 04/04/16

Researchers believe that many social media users could be turning to these platforms to fill a void by living through others. 

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Does Heavy Social Media Use Lead to Depression?
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Social media has now become the norm for many people of all ages. But for teens and millennials in particular, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube, and more have become something a life source. But how does spending so much time on social media impact a person’s mood?

In the first broad-range study to associate a correlation between social media and depression, University of Pittsburgh researchers found that the more time someone spends on social media, the more likely it is that they will become depressed, if they are not already. 

"Because social media has become such an integrated component of human interaction, it is important for clinicians interacting with young adults to recognize the balance to be struck in encouraging potential positive use, while redirecting from problematic use," senior author of the study, Dr. Brian Primack, said in a release. 

The study surveyed more than 1,787 young adults between the ages of 19 and 32 living in the United States, covering a series of questions related to the 11 most common social platforms at the time: Vine, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+, Reddit, and Snapchat. The researchers also noted the relationship status, gender, race, ethnicity, education, and income of participants to rule out other variables that may contribute to depression.

At the end of the study, the results showed a significant correlation between social media use and depression—the more time the participants spent on social media, the higher the chances they were suffering from depression.

Though researchers admit that many social media users could be turning to these platforms to fill a void by vicariously living through others, they believe social media could also be the cause of depression as it can elicit feelings of jealousy and envy of other people’s lives. Regardless of the “why,” the long-term goal is to use these findings to guide future public health interventions that target mental health issues, say the researchers.

“Our hope is that continued research will allow such efforts to be refined so that they better reach those in need,” Dr. Primack explained. “All social media exposures are not the same. Future studies should examine whether there may be different risks for depression depending on whether the social media interactions people have tend to be more active vs. passive or whether they tend to be more confrontational vs. supportive. This would help us develop more fine-grained recommendations around social media use.”

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Entertainment journalist and author Valerie Tejeda spends her days reporting on books, television, and all things pertaining to pop culture, and spends her nights writing novels for teens. Her stories have appeared on a variety of different publications, including but not limited to: VanityFair, MTV, The Huffington Post, TeenVogue, She Knows, Latina, The Fix, Salon.com, Cosmopolitan, and more. You can find Valerie on Linkedin and Twitter.

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