Are Depression and Social Media Usage Linked?

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

Are Depression and Social Media Usage Linked?

The rise of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and others 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.

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
  • Google Plus
  • Snapchat
  • Tumblr
  • Pinterest
  • Vine
  • 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 patterns were compared with depression status, 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]

“One strong possibility is that 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 as many in direct social relationships,” said senior study author, Dr. Brian Primack in a article. “However, there are also a few reasons why increased social media use may lead to more depressive thoughts. For example, 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’.” [2]

The authors of the article, however, were careful to point out that they only discovered a connection, not a definite cause and effect relationship.

What we found were just overall tendencies for the entire population.

“What we found were just overall tendencies for the entire population. These findings do not suggest that every person who engages with more social media use is depressed,” Primack stressed. “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.”

Is Social Media Use a Danger to Mental Health?

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. [3]

Part of the potential negative impact of social media stems from the amount of time spent on various channels, which is time that could be spent exercising, meeting with friends and engaging in other activities that could benefit your mental health.

Individuals spend a staggering 4.7 hours per day on their smart phone 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. [4]

People spend hours at a time looking at other people’s lives; vacations, weddings, family updates and many other things that could incite envy. 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.

The Problem of Bullying

cyberbullyingChildren 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. [5] Other studies indicated that 7 percent of students from grades 6-12 experienced cyberbullying during the 2013-2014 school year, [6] and that 15 percent of high school students in 2013 were bullied electronically during the previous year. [7]

Potential Side Effects of Cyberbullying in Children

  • 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

Balancing Real and Virtual Relationships

addicted to the internetToday’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.

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.

There is also the very real issue of Internet addiction. Though there is 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. [8]

Help for Mental Health Difficulties

When people struggle with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress syndrome or any other psychological conditions, it can greatly diminish their quality of life. Living with these mental health issues can impact work, school, relationships and everything else in a person’s life, if they don’t receive treatment.

If you are concerned about an older friend or family member, Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches is ready to help. With nearly 20 years of experience, our doctors and other medical professionals can develop a treatment program that encompasses baby boomers’ needs. When you are ready to get back those good feelings without misusing alcohol and drugs, call us at (888) 432-2467.


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