How much time do you spend on social media each day? Daily use of sites like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or Twitter could have an impact on mental health. In fact, research from the US suggests a link between the time spent on social networks and increased risk of depression.
This isn’t the first time that scientists have investigated time spent on social media — especially among younger users — and depression. However, previous studies didn’t establish whether depression was responsible for increased time spent on social media, or whether social media was the cause of depression symptoms.
“Most prior work in this area has left us with the chicken-and-egg question. 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," explains Dr. Brian Primack from the University of Arkansas.
Published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the study sampled more than 1,000 US adults between the ages of 18 and 30, whose depression was measured using a specific questionnaire. Participants were also asked about the amount of time they used social media on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram and Snapchat.
No more than two hours a day?
The scientists found that the young adults who spent more than five hours per day using social media were 2.8 times as likely to become depressed within six months, compared to participants who used social networks for less than two hours per day.
Several factors could explain the findings. First, the researchers suggest that spending too much time on social media might displace time that could be spent forming more important in-person relationships, achieving personal or professional goals, or just having valuable moments of personal reflection. They also highlight the fact, as evoked in previous studies, that social media is skewed towards showing the positive aspects of people’s lives, and that this kind of social comparison can affect self-esteem.
“These findings are … particularly important to consider in the age of covid-19. Now that it’s harder to connect socially in person, we’re all using more technology like social media. 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," concludes Dr. Brian Primack.