The largest study yet into the mental health of social media users has shown there's a correlation between its use and depression.
The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine research, published in the next issue of the medical journal Depression and Anxiety, found that people who checked social media the most frequently were 2.7 times more likely to suffer from depression than their counterparts. Those who spent the most actual time on such sites were 1.7 times more likely to be depressed.
"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 Primack, director of Pitt's Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health.
The researchers interviewed 1,787 US adults between the ages of 19 and 32 and monitored their use of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine and LinkedIn. The average user spent 61 minutes per day online and logged on around 30 times a week.
The data was controlled for other contributory factors for depression, including age, sex, race, ethnicity, relationship status, living situation, household income and education level. And the researchers say that while correlation is clear, causation has not been proven.
"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," the study states.
"It may be that people who already are depressed are turning to social media to fill a void," said lead author Lui yi Lin, adding that on the other hand, social media might cause depression, which would then spur the use of more social media in a vicious cycle.
Lin said that a person's presence on social media sites could increase the possibility of cyberbullying, and users could feel that their time spent online is wasted, which could make depression more likely.
"All social media exposures are not the same," said Dr 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. This would help us develop more fine-grained recommendations around social media use." ®