Study: Social Media Usage Linked to Teen Depression

teenagers look at phone
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A study published on Monday revealed that social media usage — more so than any other type of digital screen time — is linked to teen depression. The research team investigated the connection between depression in adolescents and their exposure to various types of screen time over a four-year time period. According to the researchers, video games makes teens “more happy.”

A recent study examining the relationship between mental health issues and high levels of screen time revealed that social media usage is linked to depression in teenagers, according to a report by CBC News. The study was conducted by a team of researchers at Montreal’s Sainte-Justine Hospital and was published on Monday by JAMA Pedatrics.

“What we found over and over was that the effects of social media were much larger than any of the other effects for the other types of digital screen time,” said University of Montreal professor Patricia Conrod, who led the research team at Montreal’s Sainte-Justine Hospital.

Conrod and her team studied 3,826 teenagers and the number of hours per week they consumed on social media, television, video games, and computer usage between 2012 and 2018. The research team discovered an increase in symptoms of depression when the teens consume social media and television.

The report added that of all the forms of screen time, social media — particularly Instagram — was discovered to be the most harmful, as teens are more likely to compare their lives to the perceived lives of others on the photo-sharing social media platform.

“It exposes young people to images that promote upward social comparison and makes them feel bad about themselves,” said Conrod, “These sort of echo chambers — these reinforcing spirals — also continually expose them to things that promote or reinforce their depression, and that’s why it’s particularly toxic for depression.”

Martin Gignac — who was not involved in the study, but is the chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Montreal Children’s Hospital — said that in recent years, there has been an increase in emergency-room visits at the hospital involving teenagers engaging in suicidal behavior.

“I don’t think that [social media] is the only reason, but it’s one of the risk factors we should monitor,” said Gignac.

Conrod’s colleague, Elroy Boers, noted that the research team was surprised to discover that video games did not increase depressive symptoms in teenagers.

“Video gaming makes one more happy,” said Boers, “It’s a good pastime.”

The researcher also mentioned that he had become interested in this area of study because screen time usage is very common among young people today, but is not a topic that is widely studied.

“I would almost compare it to smoking in the 1970’s, where the very negative effects are still relatively unknown,” said Boers, who added that teenagers, on average, consume six to seven hours of screen time each day. “What we found is quite worrisome and needs further investigation.”

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, on Parler at @alana, and on Instagram.

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