Are Social Media and Depression Linked? Why?

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Are Social Media and Depression Linked? Why?

The rise of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and more has changed the world we live in forever. People are now more connected than ever before and can personalize an online presence, conveying a digital persona of sorts. Social media has certainly led to a lot of very good things, but it’s undeniable that there have been some negatives associated with it as well.

Social Media and Depression Statistics

One of the biggest negatives that has been found with the rise of these social platforms is the correlation between social media and depression. A new study published in the “Journal of Depression and Anxiety” found a link between high usage of social media sites and increased depression. 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 well-known 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. Depression testing revealed that approximately one-quarter of the 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 Florida behavioral health center, we have seen this correlation in place.

It is important to note that they only discovered a connection, not a definite cause and effect relationship between social media and depression. This does not prove that the two are related. The information also focused on the overall tendencies of the entire population. Depression due to social media appears to be a trend, but it is not the same for everyone.

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 Is Social Media Linked to Depression?

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 U.S. social media users admit to logging on several times per day.?2 It should be no surprise that this new consistent habit could be affecting our mental health. The exact reasons why social media could be causing depression are up for debate, but we have gathered a few of the more likely possibilities.

1. Time Spent 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, 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. 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/video game activities. Some research has shown prevalence rates as high as 18.5 percent.4

2. FOMO and the Highlight Reel

Another potential reason that social media could be causing depression is that people’s online lives look a lot more glamorous and amazing than their real lives. Instagram has often been referred to as the highlight reel because people only post pictures from their best moments that have been edited considerably. 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 (fear of missing out). 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 individuals who are not happy with their lives. This may be one of the main reasons that social media and depression tend to be linked.

3. The Problem of Cyberbullying


Another reason that social media and depression are connected could be because of the rise in opportunities for bullying. Children have had to deal with bullying long before the advent and popularization of social media. The difference in years past is that kids could escape the bullying when they weren’t in school. With smartphones, tablets and laptops enabling adolescents to remain connected virtually 24/7, escaping from bullying is no longer possible. Children can be harassed at any time, day or night.

Cyberbullying 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

There are many potential side effects of cyberbullying in children including:

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

Some of these negative effects can extend well into adulthood. If you noticed that your child is now abusing drugs because of the bullying that they experienced in high school, you should get them help immediately. Our residential alcohol and drug rehab in South Florida works with people who have been in similar situations.

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 use social media and engage in blogging, texting, and email regularly. There are many advantages to these types of communications and when used correctly, they will not likely lead to any mental health difficulties. The problem comes when digital relationships exclusively take the place of personal ones. Some people suspect that is another leading cause of the connection between social media and depression.

Dr. Brian Primack has given some insight into this idea: “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 is always something in between two people in a digital relationship and something is often lost in translation. Also, 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.

Minimize the Negative Effects of Social Media

It is clear that social media can have negative effects on a person’s mental health. If you suspect that your mental health is suffering because of your time spent online follow these tips:

  • 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, 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 someone experiences these negative effects, we at Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches are ready to help. We offer so much more than depression treatment in South Florida. With nearly 20 years of experience, our doctors and other medical professionals can develop a treatment program that encompasses your needs. Call us at 561-220-3981.



  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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