Excessive Social Media Use Fuels Depression, Study Finds
New research, while no surprise, is the first to examine the link over time
Young adults who spend more than five hours a day engaging with social media are 2.8 times as likely to become depressed within six months compared to those who limit their use to less than two hours, new research finds.
The finding, based on a pre-pandemic survey of more than 1,000 Americans aged 18 to 30, is the first to reveal a link between social media use and depression over time, says study leader Brian Primack, MD, a professor of public health at the University of Arkansas.
“Most prior work in this area has left us with the chicken-and-egg question,” Primack said in a statement. “We know from other large studies that depression and social media use tend to go together, but it’s been hard to figure out which came first. This new study sheds light on these questions, because high initial social media use led to increased rates of depression. However, initial depression did not lead to any change in social media use.”
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Primack and his colleagues suspect the increase in depression stems from a decrease in time spent on offline activities.
“Excess time on social media may displace forming more important in-person relationships, achieving personal or professional goals, or even simply having moments of valuable reflection,” says study co-author Cesar Escobar-Viera, MD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh.
The study, announced today, will be published in the February issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. It involved surveying individuals using a standard questionnaire to identify symptoms of depression and asking how much time they spend on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat and other social media platforms.
The new research adds to other studies that have linked social media use to depression. In one study, scientists split college students into two groups and had half of them strictly limit their time on social media. That group, on average, saw “significant decreases in both depression and loneliness.”
Anecdotally, I found quitting Facebook to be one of several simple and effective stress reducers in these crazy times. It’s been several weeks since I deleted the app from my phone, and I don’t miss it one iota.
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The latest findings, though based on data collected in 2018, are particularly poignant in the Covid era, the researchers say.
“Now that it’s harder to connect socially in person, we’re all using more technology like social media,” Primack says. “While I think those technologies certainly can be valuable, I’d also encourage people to reflect on which tech experiences are truly useful for them and which ones leave them feeling empty.”