The more time young adults use social media, the more likely they are to be depressed, according to new research from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. This was the first large, nationally representative study to examine associations between use of a broad range of social media outlets and depression.
“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,” said senior author Brian A. Primack, M.D., Ph.D., director of Pitt’s Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health.
In 2014, Dr. Primack and his colleagues sampled 1,787 U.S. adults ages 19 through 32, using questionnaires to determine social media use and an established depression assessment tool.
The questionnaires asked about the 11 most popular social media platforms at the time: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine and LinkedIn.
On average the participants used social media a total of 61 minutes per day and visited various social media accounts 30 times per week. More than a quarter of the participants were classified as having “high” indicators of depression.
There were significant and linear associations between social media use and depression whether social media use was measured in terms of total time spent or frequency of visits.
For example, compared with those who checked least frequently, participants who reported most frequently checking social media throughout the week had 2.7 times the likelihood of depression.
Similarly, compared to peers who spent less time on social media, participants who spent the most total time on social media throughout the day had 1.7 times the risk of depression.
The researchers controlled for other factors that may contribute to depression, including age, sex, race, ethnicity, relationship status, living situation, household income and education level.
In addition to encouraging clinicians to ask about social media use among people who are depressed, the findings could be used as a basis for public health interventions leveraging social media.
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 to develop more fine-grained recommendations around social media use.
Source: University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences, USA.