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Spending too much time on social media can cause depression, says study

Published on:11 December 2020, 13:07pm IST
Six months of social media binging can lead to depression, says a new study.
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Social media usage and mental well-being are linked. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

If you end up spending the majority of your time on social media, it’s time for a break. Not to sound like a parent, but social media can harm your mental well-being. There’s research to back this up.

Six months of social media binge can lead to depression, says study

Young adults who increased their social media usage were more likely to develop depression within six months, according to a new national study authored by Dr Brian Primack, dean of the College of Education and Health Professions and professor of public health at the University of Arkansas.

Young adults who used more than 300 minutes per day were 2.8 times more likely to become depressed within six months when compared with participants who used social media for less than 120 minutes per day.

The study, which will be published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, is the first large national study to show a link between social media use and depression over time.

“Most prior work in this area has left us with the chicken-and-egg question,” said Primack.

Depression does more than just make you sad. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

“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 usage led to increased rates of depression. However, initial depression did not lead to any change in social media use,” added Primack.

In 2018, Primack and his colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh sampled more than 1,000 U.S. adults between 18 to 30.

They measured depression using the validated nine-item Patient Health Questionnaire and asked participants about the amount of time they used social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, and SnapChat.

Their analyses took into account multiple demographic factors like age, sex, race, education, income and employment, and they included survey weights so the results would reflect the greater U.S. population.

“One reason for these findings may be that social media takes up a lot of time,” said Dr. Cesar Escobar-Viera, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh and co-author on the study.

Social media is inculcating a feeling of emptiness amongst millennials

“Excess time on social media may displace forming more important in-person relationships, achieving personal or professional goals, or even simply having moments of valuable reflection,” added Escobar-Viera.

The authors suggest that social comparison may also underlie these findings.

“Social media is often curated to emphasise positive portrayals,” said Jaime Sidani, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh and co-author of the study.

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“This can be especially difficult for young adults who are at critical junctures in life related to identity development and feel that they can’t measure up to the impossible ideals they are exposed to,” Sidani added.

The findings are of particular importance given that depression was recently declared to be the leading global cause of disability by the World Health Organization and accounts for more disability-adjusted life years than all other mental disorders.

“These findings are also particularly important to consider in the age of COVID-19,” Primack said.

“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,” added Primack. 

(With inputs from ANI)

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