Millennials’ Use of Social Media Linked to Depression


A new study finds that the more time young adults spend using social media, the more likely they are to be depressed.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine asked a sample of 1,787 U.S. millennials of ages 19 through 32 about the amount of time spent in their use of social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine, and LinkedIn.

A news release about the study reports:

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.

Subjects in the study who reported the most frequent use of social media throughout the week had 2.7 times more likelihood of depression than those who had less frequent usage. Similarly, those who spent the most time on social media throughout the day had 1.7 times the risk of depression than those who had less frequent usage.

“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,” Brian A. Primack, M.D., Ph.D., a senior author of the study and the director of Pitt’s Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health, said in a statement.

Author Lui yi Lin cautions that the study does not determine a causal relationship between use of social media and depression.

“It may be that people who already are depressed are turning to social media to fill a void,” she said, adding as well that social media could cause depression which, in turn, could lead to even more use of social media.

The news release provides the following examples of how social media could lead to depression:

  • Exposure to highly idealized representations of peers on social media elicits feelings of envy and the distorted belief that others lead happier, more successful lives.
  • Engaging in activities of little meaning on social media may give a feeling of “time wasted” that negatively influences mood.
  • Social media use could be fueling “Internet addiction,” a proposed psychiatric condition closely associated with depression.
  • Spending more time on social media may increase the risk of exposure to cyber-bullying or other similar negative interactions, which can cause feelings of depression.

“All social media exposures are not the same,” states Primack. “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.”


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