Are Social Media and Depression Linked? Why?

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photo of a person holding a smartphone with a special effect created to look like all the different social media icons floating above the smartphone in the air

Updated July 2021

The rise of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and TikTok has changed the world we live in forever. People are now more connected than ever before. Social media users can connect with people around the world through photos, videos, chat rooms, and even personalize their online presence. While these online tools have led to a lot of very good things, it’s undeniable that there have been some negatives associated with them, as well. A considerably noticeable and debated issue is the relationship between social media and depression by way of social media use. As a treatment center in Lake Worth, we wanted to take a closer look at research that points to the Internet causing mental illness and whether they’re true.

Social Media and Mental Health Data

One of the biggest negatives that have been found with the rise of these social platforms is the correlation between technology and depression. A new study published in the “Journal of Depression and Anxiety” found a link between the growing use of social media and depression cases. The research, which was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), involved nearly 1,800 individuals and tracked their usage of 11 popular social media platforms:

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • YouTube
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Snapchat
  • Tumblr
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn

The researchers found that the participants checked into social media an average of 30 times per week for just over an hour per day. The same study also revealed that approximately one-quarter of participants were at a high risk of depression. When social media and depression are compared, it was determined that those who used social media the most were about 2.7 times more likely to be depressed than participants who used social media the least.1 As a Lake Worth center for addiction and mental illness, we have seen the effects of social media on mental health in action.

However, it’s important to note that they only discovered a connection, not a definite cause and effect relationship between social media and depression. The information also focused on the overall tendencies of the entire population. Although the statistics on depression caused by social media show a growing trend, it’s not the same for everyone.

Additionally, Dr. Brian Primack, the Director of the Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health at the University of Pittsburgh has discussed the study and added that “In fact, there certainly are many groups of people who actually find solace and lessening of their depression through social media. However, the overall findings suggest that, on a population level, more social media use and more depression are correlated.”

Why Does the Internet Cause Depression?

So, why is social media linked to depression? Is depression a social issue? Nearly everyone is familiar with some aspect of social media. Worldwide, there are over 1.96 billion users. Over three-quarters of the U.S. population currently has at least one social media profile, and 29 percent of social media users in the United States admit to logging on several times per day.2 So it should be no surprise that this seemingly worldwide trend could be affecting our mental health. Below are some possible reasons why social media and depression are linked.

1. Spending Too Much Time Online Instead of In the Real World

Part of the potential reason that social media causes depression could stem from the amount of time spent on various channels, which is time that could be spent doing more productive activities such as exercising, socializing, meeting with friends, meditating, doing work, and engaging in activities that could benefit your mental health.

Individuals spend a staggering 4.7 hours per day on their smartphone checking social media sites.?In the U.S., individuals check Facebook and other sites on their smartphones an average of 17 times per day and spend a staggering 4.7 hours per day using their phones. Considering that most of us are only awake for about 15 hours per day, this means that the average person spends a third of his or her time on the phone and checks social media at least once per hour.3

There is also the very real issue of Internet addiction. Though there are no diagnostic criteria for identifying Internet addiction, a growing body of research surrounds the topic. Also known as cyber addiction, surveys estimate that up to 8.2 percent of U.S. citizens are currently addicted to the Internet, meaning they spend many hours in non-work technology-related computer, Internet, and video game activities. Some research has shown prevalence rates as high as 18.5 percent.4 Our rehab center offers Internet addiction treatment for people with cyber addictions who need help controlling their social media and overall technology use.

2. FOMO and the Highlight Reel

Another potential reason why social media causes depression is that people’s online lives look a lot more glamorous and amazing than their real lives. As previously mentioned, most if not all social media platforms allow users to customize their online personas. Basically, it’s easy to be anyone you want to be online. One significant tool that’s contributed to fear of missing out (FOMO) is Instagram’s highlight reel.  In the highlight reel, people only post pictures and videos from their best moments that are often heavily edited to seem as glamorous as possible. Dr. Brian Pirmack has said, “People who engage in a lot of social media use may feel they are not living up to the idealized portraits of life that other people tend to present in their profiles. This phenomenon has sometimes been called ‘Facebook depression.’”

People spend hours at a time looking at other people’s lives; vacations, weddings, family updates, and many other things that could incite envy or FOMO. While social media can help people network for their careers and connect with distant friends and family members, it can also exacerbate negative feelings in people who are not happy with their lives. This may be one of the main reasons why social media causes depression.

3. The Problem of Cyberbullying


Another reason why social media and depression are connected could be because of the increased opportunities for bullying. Children, teens, and adults have had to deal with bullying long before the advent and popularization of social media. However, while kids could generally avoid bullying when they weren’t at school before social media, things have changed. With smartphones, tablets, and laptops enabling adolescents to remain connected virtually 24/7, escaping bullying is no longer possible. People of all age groups can be harassed at any time, day or night.

Cyberbullying refers to the use of electronic communication or online tools to bully someone, usually by sending intimidating, threatening, or hurtful messages. Online bullying is a growing problem that continues to receive attention in the mainstream media.

In 2011, it was estimated that 2.2 million American students experienced some form of cyberbullying. It has been suggested that 7 percent of students from grades 6-12 experienced cyberbullying during the 2013-2014 school year and that 15 percent of high school students in 2013 were bullied electronically during the previous year.5 Fast forward a few years to 2021, and 36.5 percent of people have felt they’ve experienced cyberbullying at some point in their lives and 87 percent of adolescents and young adults have witnessed bullying online.6

There are many psychological effects of cyberbullying, including:

  • Substance abuse
  • Skipping school
  • More likely to be bullied in person
  • Unwilling to attend school
  • Experiencing mental health difficulties
  • Low self-confidence
  • Poor academic performance

Some of these negative effects of cyberbullying can extend well into adulthood. If you’re currently abusing drugs or alcohol due to the bullying you experienced as a child, or are the parent of a child with an addiction caused by bullying, now is the time to get help. Our addiction treatment in Palm Beach addresses substance use disorders related to drugs like alcohol, benzos, cocaine, heroin, meth, opioids, prescription medications, and more. We can help you or a loved one physically and mentally recover from addiction and its causes.

4. Problems Balancing Real and Virtual Relationships

addicted to the internet

Today’s technological climate makes it nearly impossible for a person to avoid virtual or digital relationships. The vast majority of American teens and adults who use social media also engage in blogging, texting, and email regularly. These tools offer many advantages, and when used correctly, are less likely to lead to any mental health problems. Another possible leading cause of the connection between social media and depression is when digital relationships take the place of personal ones.

Dr. Brian Primack has given some insight into this idea, as well: “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.”

Digital relationships may feel real, but they are limited and mediated by the technology we use. There’s always a separation of sorts in a digital relationship and things are often lost in translation. Physical connection and basic intimacy are also lost in the online world. While all of the options available in electronic forms of communication may appear to give an individual more freedom, it actually may limit creativity and imagination. Never underestimate the value and effectiveness of face-to-face interaction.

How to Minimize the Negative Effects of Social Media

Social media can affect mental health in the worst ways imaginable. If you suspect that your mental health is suffering because of your time spent online, below are some tips on how to avoid the negative effects of social media that can help:


  • Unplug for a designated amount of time
  • Set time limits on your phone for social media sites
  • Delete your social media accounts for a specific amount of time
  • Challenge a friend to unplug with you and be each other’s support
  • Keep your phone out of arm’s reach when possible
  • Stop using your phone in bed

Finally, get professional help if necessary. When people struggle with social media depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), or any other psychological condition, it can greatly diminish their quality of life. We have discussed the effects of social media and depression, but living with any mental health issues can impact work, school, relationships, and everything else in a person’s life.

If you believe that you or a loved one is battling depression or any other mental illness, Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches is here to help. We offer so much more than inpatient depression treatment in Florida. With over 20 years of experience, our doctors and other medical professionals can develop a treatment program that encompasses your needs. Contact our team today for more information about our drug treatment and mental health programs at BHOPB.

social media and mental health data

Are Social Media and Depression Linked?


  1. NCBI – Association between Social Media Use and Depression among U.S. Young Adults
  2. Pew Research Center – About a quarter of U.S. adults say they are ‘almost constantly’ online
  3. Digital Trends – Americans spend an alarming amount of time checking social media on their phones
  4. NCBI – Internet Addiction: A Brief Summary of Research and Practice
  5. U.S. Department of Education – Student Reports of Bullying and Cyber-Bullying: Results From the 2011 School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey




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