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How Does Social Media Play a Role in Depression?

Nadra Nittle is a journalist who has written articles in publications including NBC News, The Guardian, Vox, and Civil Eats.

essay on social media causing depression

Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.

essay on social media causing depression

Verywell / Catherine Song

What to Know About Clinical Depression

Causation or correlation.

  • Less Social Media, Less FOMO

Why Young People Are at Risk

  • Bad News and ‘Doomscrolling’

Safely Using Social Media

By some estimates, roughly 4 billion people across the world use networking websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This usage has prompted mental health experts to investigate whether the enormous popularity of social media plays a role in depression.

Research suggests that people who limit their time on social media tend to be happier than those who don’t. Studies also indicate that social media may trigger an array of negative emotions in users that contribute to or worsen their depression symptoms.

U.S. Surgeon General Warning

In May 2023, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy released an advisory to call attention to the effects of social media on youth mental health. He notes that at crucial periods of adolescent brain development, social media use is predictive of decreases in life satisfaction, as well as additional concerns around body image, sleep issues, and much more.

Given that essentially all adolescents are now using social media in some form, he stresses the importance of further research.

Clinical depression or major depressive disorder is a mood disorder characterized by ongoing feelings of sadness and loss of interest in activities that an individual once enjoyed.

Depression can be mild or severe and make it difficult for those with the condition to concentrate, sleep or eat well, make decisions, or complete their normal routines.

People with depression may contemplate death or suicide, feel worthless, develop anxiety or have physical symptoms such as fatigue or headaches. Psychotherapy and medication are some of the treatments for depression. Limiting time on social media and prioritizing real-world connections can be beneficial to mental health.

The Facts on Social Media and Depression

  • Social media has never been more popular, with more than half of the world's population active on these networking sites that roll out nonstop news, much of it negative.
  • A Lancet study publbished in 2018 found that people who check Facebook late at night were more likely to feel depressed and unhappy.
  • Another 2018 study found that the less time people spend on social media, the less symptoms of depression and loneliness they felt.
  • A 2015 study found that Facebook users who felt envy while on the networking site were more likely to develop symptoms of depression.

Some studies about social media and mental health reveal that there’s a correlation between networking sites and depression. Other research goes a step further, finding that social media may very well cause depression. A landmark study—“No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression”—was published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology in 2018.

The study found that the less people used social media, the less depressed and lonely they felt.

This indicates a relationship between lower social media use and emotional wellbeing. According to the researchers, the study marked the first time scientific research established a causal link between these variables.

“Prior to this, all we could say was that there is an association between using social media and having poor outcomes with wellbeing,” said study coauthor Jordyn Young in a statement.

To establish the link between social media and depression, the researchers assigned 143 University of Pennsylvania students to two groups: one could use social media with no restrictions, while the second group had their social media access limited to just 30 minutes on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat combined over a three-week period.

Each study participant used iPhones to access social media and the researchers monitored their phone data to ensure compliance. The group with restricted social media access reported lower severity of depression and loneliness than they had at the beginning of the study.

Both groups reported a drop in anxiety and fear of missing out (FOMO), apparently because joining the study made even the group with unrestricted access to social media more cognizant of how much time they were spending on it.

Less Social Media, Less FOMO 

It’s not certain why participants who only spent 30 minutes daily on social media experienced less depression, but researchers suggest that these young people were spared from looking at content—such as a friend’s beach vacation, grad school acceptance letter, or happy family—that might make them feel bad about themselves.

Taking in the photos or posts of people with seemingly “perfect” lives can make social media users feel like they just don’t measure up. A 2015 University of Missouri study found that regular Facebook users were more likely to develop depression if they felt feelings of envy on the networking site.

Social media can also give users a case of FOMO, for example, if they were invited on their friend’s beach vacation but couldn’t go for some reason. Or if the friend didn’t ask them on the trip at all, users might feel hurt and left out to see that others in their social circle were. It can lead them to question their friendships or their own self-worth.

Social media users who visit an ex’s social media page and see pictures of their former partner wining and dining a new love interest can also experience FOMO. They might wonder why their ex never took them to such fancy restaurants or lavished them with gifts.

Ultimately, limiting one’s time on social media can mean less time spent comparing oneself to others. This can extend to not thinking badly of oneself and developing the symptoms that contribute to depression.

Prior to social media and the internet, children only had to worry about bullying on school grounds, for the most part. But social media has given bullies a new way to torment their victims.

With just one click, bullies can circulate a video of their target being ridiculed, beaten up, or otherwise humiliated. People can swarm a peer’s social media page, leaving negative comments or spreading misinformation. In some cases, victims of bullying have committed suicide.

While many schools have anti-bullying policies and rules about online student conduct, it can still be difficult for educators and parents to monitor abusive behavior on social media.

Worsening matters is that the victims of bullies often fear that the bullying will increase if they speak to a parent, teacher, or administrator about their mistreatment. This can make a child feel even more isolated and go without the emotional support they need to handle a toxic and potentially volatile situation. 

If you or someone you care about is having suicidal thoughts, contact the  National Suicide Prevention Lifeline  at  988  for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our  National Helpline Database .

Bad News and ‘Doomscrolling’ 

One in five Americans now get their news from social media—a larger proportion than those who get their news from traditional print media.

For heavy social media users, people who log in for multiple hours at a time or multiple times a day, this means frequent exposure news, including bad news. Headlines related to natural disasters, terrorist attacks, political strife, and celebrity deaths frequently top lists of social media trends.

Before the advent of social media and the internet generally, one’s exposure to bad news was limited. The public got news from broadcasts that aired at certain times of the day or from newspapers.

The habit of binging bad news on social media sites or elsewhere online is known as “doomscrolling,” and it can adversely affect one’s mental health, leading to development or heightening of anxiety or depression symptoms. 

A 2018 Lancet Psychiatry study of 91,005 people found that those who logged onto Facebook before bedtime were 6% likelier to have major depressive disorder and rated their happiness level 9% lower than those with better sleep hygiene did.

Psychologist Amelia Aldao told NPR that doomscrolling locks the public into a “vicious cycle of negativity.” The cycle continues because “our minds are wired to look out for threats,” she said. “The more time we spend scrolling, the more we find those dangers, the more we get sucked into them, the more anxious we get.” Before long, the world appears to be an altogether gloomy place, making doomscrollers feel increasingly hopeless.

Press Play for Advice On Limiting Social Media Use

This episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares effective ways to reduce your screen time. Click below to listen now.

Follow Now : Apple Podcasts / Spotify / Google Podcasts / Amazon Music

Using social media comes with mental health risks, but that doesn’t mean it should be completely avoided. Experts recommend using these networking websites in moderation.

Set a timer when you’re on social media or install an app on your phone or computer that tracks how long you’ve spent on a networking site.

Without these timers or apps, it’s easy to spend hours on social media before you know it. To limit your time on social media, you can also plan real-world activities that help you focus on your immediate surroundings and circumstances. Read a book, watch a movie, go for a stroll, play a game, bake some bread, or have a phone conversation with a friend. Make the time to enjoy life offline.  

Kemp S. More than half of the people on Earth now use social media .

" Social Media and Youth Mental Healt h," The US Surgeon General's Advisory, May 2023.

Lyall LM, Wyse CA, Graham N, et al. Association of disrupted circadian rhythmicity with mood disorders, subjective wellbeing, and cognitive function: A cross-sectional study of 91 105 participants from the UK Biobank . Lancet Psychiatry.  2018;5(6):507-514. doi:10.1016/S2215-0366(18)30139-1

Hunt MG, Marx R, Lipson C, Young J. No more FOMO: Limiting social media decreases loneliness and depression . J Soc Clin Psychol.  2018;37(10):751-768. doi:10.1521/jscp.2018.37.10.751

Tandoc EC, Ferrucci P, Duffy M. Facebook use, envy, and depression among college students: Is facebooking depressing? Comput Hum Behav. 2015;43:139-146. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2014.10.053

Limbana T, Khan F, Eskander N, Emamy M, Jahan N. The association of bullying and suicidality: Does it affect the pediatric population?   Cureus . 2020;12(8). doi:10.7759/cureus.9691

Shearer E. Social media outpaces print newspapers in the U.S. as a news source . Pew Research Center.

Garcia-Navarro L. National Public Radio. Your 'doomscrolling' breeds anxiety. Here's how to stop the cycle .

By Nadra Nittle Nadra Nittle is a Los Angeles-based journalist and author. She has covered a wide range of topics, including health, education, race, consumerism, food, and public policy, throughout her career.   

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Does social media use cause depression.

How heavy Instagram and Facebook use may be affecting kids negatively

Writer: Caroline Miller

Clinical Experts: Jerry Bubrick, PhD , Alexandra Hamlet, PsyD

What You'll Learn

  • What do we know about the connection between social media use and depression?
  • How can using social media affect kids negatively?
  • How can parents help kids build healthy social media habits?

Studies show that depression among teenagers and young adults has gotten more common over the past decade. Social media use has also increased during the same time. It’s hard to say for sure that social media causes depression. Still, there are several ways that using social media could harm kids.

Some experts think that connecting with peers online is less emotionally fulfilling than connecting in person. Research shows that teenagers who spend more time on social media also feel more isolated. It could be that kids who already feel isolated use social media more. But it could be that using social media actually makes kids feel isolated.

Another theory is that social media is bad for teenagers’ self-esteem. Seeing lots of perfect pictures online might make kids (especially girls) view themselves negatively. Feeling bad about themselves can lead to depression.

Social media can also cut into the time that kids spend on activities that make them feel good, like exercise and hobbies. Additionally, it can distract from important tasks like homework. Having to juggle those responsibilities can increase kids’ stress. Studies also suggest that using social media at night interferes with restful sleep for many teenagers.

It’s important for parents to check in with kids about their social media use and help them develop healthy habits. You can encourage kids to turn off notifications, spend plenty of time on offline activities that make them feel good, and put phones away before bedtime. You can also set a good example by modeling balance in your own use of social media.

Finally, be sure to keep an eye out for signs of depression and get professional help if you’re worried. It’s especially important to check on kids who are under a lot of stress.

Is using social media making our kids unhappy? Evidence is mounting that there is a link between social media and depression . In several studies, teenage and young adult users who spend the most time on Instagram, Facebook and other platforms were shown to have a substantially (from 13 to 66 percent) higher rate of reported depression than those who spent the least time.

Does that mean that Instagram and TikTok are actually causing depression? These studies show a correlation, not causation. But it’s worth a serious look at how social media could be affecting teenagers and young adults negatively.

One reason the correlation seems more than coincidental is that an increase in depression occurred in tandem with the rise in smartphone use .

A 2017 study of over half a million eighth through 12th graders found that the number exhibiting high levels of depressive symptoms increased by 33 percent between 2010 and 2015. In the same period, the suicide rate for girls in that age group increased by 65 percent.

Smartphones were introduced in 2007, and by 2015 fully 92 percent of teens and young adults owned a smartphone . The rise in depressive symptoms correlates with smartphone adoption during that period, even when matched year by year, observes the study’s lead author, San Diego State University psychologist Jean Twenge, PhD.

Over that same time period there was a sharp spike in reports of students seeking help at college and university counseling centers, principally for depression and anxiety. Visits jumped 30 percent between 2010 and 2015 , and they’ve continued to rise since the pandemic.

Social media and depression

One of the biggest differences in the lives of current teenagers and young adults, compared to earlier generations, is that they spend much less time connecting with their peers in person and more time connecting electronically, principally through social media.

Some experts see the rise in depression as evidence that the connections social media users form electronically are less emotionally satisfying, leaving them feeling socially isolated.

“The less you are connected with human beings in a deep, empathic way, the less you’re really getting the benefits of a social interaction,” points out Alexandra Hamlet, PsyD, a clinical psychologist. “The more superficial it is, the less likely it’s going to cause you to feel connected, which is something we all need.”

Indeed, one exception to the depression correlation is girls who are high users of social media but also keep up a high level of face-to-face social interaction. The Twenge study showed that those girls who interact intensely offline as well as through social media don’t show the increase in depressive symptoms that those who interact less in person do.

And there are some teenagers who aren’t successful in connecting with peers offline, because they are isolated geographically or don’t feel accepted in their schools and local communities. For those kids, electronic connection can be lifesaving.

Social media and perceived isolation

Another study of a national sample of young adults (age 19-32) showed correlation between the time spent on social media and perceived social isolation (PSI). The authors noted that directionality can’t be determined. That is, “Do people feeling socially isolated spend more time on social media, or do more intense users develop PSI?”

If it’s the latter, they noted, “Is it because the individual is spending less time on more authentic social experiences that would decrease PSI? Or is it the nature of observing highly curated social feeds that they make you feel more excluded?”

Which brings us what we now call FOMO, or fear of missing out.

Jerry Bubrick , PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, observes that “FOMO is really the fear of not being connected to our social world, and that need to feel connected sometimes trumps whatever’s going on in the actual situation we’re in. The more we use social media, the less we think about being present in the moment.”

Instead we might be occupied with worrying why we weren’t invited to a party we’re seeing on Instagram, or making sure we don’t miss a single post from a friend. But if we’re always playing catch-up to endless online updates, we’re prioritizing social interactions that aren’t as emotionally rewarding and can actually make us feel more isolated.

Social media and self-esteem

Another theory about the increase in depression is the loss of self-esteem , especially in teenage girls, when they c ompare themselves negatively with artfully curated images of those who appear to be prettier, thinner, more popular and richer.

“Many girls are bombarded with their friends posting the most perfect pictures of themselves, or they’re following celebrities and influencers who do a lot of Photoshopping and have makeup and hair teams,” explains Dr. Hamlet. “If that’s their model for what is normal, it can be very hard on their self-confidence.”

Indeed, image-driven Instagram shows up in surveys as the platform that most leads young people to report feeling anxiety, depression and worries about body image.

Curation of a perfect image may not only make others feel inadequate, it’s unhealthy even for those who appear to be successful at it, notes Dr. Bubrick. “Kids spend so much time on social media trying to post what they think the world will think is a perfect life. Look at how happy I am! Look how beautiful I am! Without that they’re worried that their friends won’t accept them. They’re afraid of being rejected.” And if they are getting positive feedback from their social media accounts, they might worry that what their friends like isn’t the “real” them.

Less healthy activity

Another possible source of depression may be what teenagers are not doing during while they’re spending time on social media, including physical activity and things that generate a sense of accomplishment, like learning new skills and developing talents.

“If you’re spending a lot of time on your phone, you have less time for activities that can build confidence, a sense of achievement and connectedness,” explains Dr. Hamlet.

Kids who are spending a lot of time on devices are not getting much in return to make them feel good about themselves, she adds. “Yes, you get a little dopamine burst whenever you get a notification, or a like on a picture, or a follow request. But those things are addicting without being satisfying.”

Disrupted concentration

Another thing disrupted by social media is the process of doing homework and other tasks that require concentration. It’s become common for teenagers to engage with friends on social media at the same time they are studying. They take pride in being able to multi-task, but evidence shows that it cuts down on learning and performance.

“Basically, multitasking isn’t possible,” Dr. Hamlet notes. “What you end up doing is really just switching back and forth between two tasks rather quickly. There is a cost to the brain.” And with poorer concentration and constant interruption, homework takes substantially longer than it should, cutting into free time and adding to stress.

Sleep deprivation and depression

Some of the ways in which social media use impacts mood may be indirect. For instance, one of the most common contributors to depression in teenagers is sleep deprivation , which can be caused, or exacerbated, by social media.

Research shows that 60 percent of adolescents are looking at their phones in the last hour before sleep, and that they get on average an hour less sleep than their peers who don’t use their phones before bed. Blue light from electronic screens interferes with falling asleep ; on top of that, checking social media is not necessarily a relaxing or sleep-inducing activity. Scrolling on social media, notes Dr. Hamlet, can easily end up causing stress.

“Social media can have a profound effect on sleep,” adds Dr. Bubrick. “You have the intention to check Instagram or watch TikTok videos for 5 minutes, and the next thing you know 50 minutes are gone. You’re an hour behind in sleep, and more tired the next day. You find it harder to focus. You’re off your game, and it spirals from there .”

How to minimize negative effects of social media use

While we don’t yet have conclusive evidence that social media use actually causes depression, we do have plenty of warning signs that it may be affecting our kids negatively. So it’s smart for parents to check in regularly with kids about their social media use, to make sure it’s positive and healthy, and guide them towards ways to change it , if you think it’s not.

Also, be alert for symptoms of depression .  If you notice signs that your child might be depressed, take them seriously. Ask your child how they are doing, and don’t hesitate to set up an appointment with a mental health provider .

Steps you can take to ensure healthy social media use:

  • Focus on balance: Make sure your kids are also engaging in social interaction offline, and have time for activities that help build identity and self-confidence.
  • Turn off notifications: App developers are getting more and more aggressive with notifications to lure users to interrupt whatever they’re doing to engage constantly with their phones. Don’t let them.
  • Look out for girls at higher risk of depression: Monitor girls who are going through a particularly tough time or are under unusual stress. Negative effects of social media can have more impact when confidence is down.
  • Teach mindful use of social media : Encourage teenagers to be honest with themselves about how time spent on social media makes them feel, and disengage from interactions that increase stress or unhappiness.
  • Model restraint and balance in your own media diet: Set an example by disengaging from media to spend quality family time together, including phone-free dinners and other activities. Kids may resist, but they’ll feel the benefits.
  • Phone-free time before sleep: Enforce a policy of no smartphones in the bedroom after a specific time and overnight. Use an old-fashioned alarm clock to wake up.

Frequently Asked Questions

Social media has been shown to be correlated with anxiety and depression. This correlation could have to do with teens connecting more online rather than in person, leaving them feeling socially isolated. Teens are also looking at carefully curated images online, which may cause anxiety, low self-esteem, and body image issues.

Caroline Miller

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Right Now | Instagram and Grampa

Social Media Use and Adult Depression

March-April 2022

Blue-tinted illustration of a man holding his head and his smartphone above water.

Illustration by James Steinberg

Covid States Project website

Parenting teenagers in 2022 generally entails worrying about their use of platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok; multiple studies point to links between social-media use and anxiety and depression among children and adolescents. Yet a new study reveals similar associations between depression and social-media use for their parents and grandparents too.

The findings come out of the COVID States Project, a series of surveys of adults in all 50 states, which began in spring 2020, soon after the pandemic began. It’s led by a multidisciplinary team of researchers from four universities, including Roy Perlis, the Dozoretz Professor of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and John Della Volpe, director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics. For this study, they identified more than 5,000 people, with an average age of 56, who showed no signs of depression as measured by a standard screening. Participants initially were asked if they use social media. When surveyed again later, those who used Snapchat, Facebook, and TikTok were more likely to report symptoms of depression.

“Most of the prior literature focused on kids or young adults,” Perlis explains. “But in 2022 older adults also use social media, and we know almost nothing about the relationship between social media and anxiety and depression in older adults.” Such questions feel particularly pressing given the mental-health impact of the pandemic. “Rates of depression and anxiety were very high early in the pandemic,” he says, “and they’ve remained about three times greater than they would be normally.”

Findings about mental health and social-media use can be tricky to interpret. Most studies can’t prove that using Facebook or Instagram causes depression, Perlis cautions. These studies often capture a single moment in time and show that people who use social media report more symptoms of anxiety and depression. This may mean that being anxious or depressed makes a person more likely to engage with social media. Or, “maybe people who use social media are more prone to depression because the same sort of traits or personality, characteristics or feelings, the same things that make them more apt to use social media also make them more apt to become depressed,” he suggests. Perhaps social-media users get their news in a format that offers less balanced coverage or promotes “doomscrolling,” dampening mood in the process. Maybe “they are using social media instead of seeing other people,” Perlis offers, “or they’re using social media because they don’t have social supports in the real world.”

This latest study still can’t explain what triggers depression among social-media users, he acknowledges, but it “lets us start to cross off alternative explanations for the relationship that we’ve seen.” The researchers knew the study participants were not depressed when the study began, and since it was conducted over time, it enabled them to see the depression symptoms appear. Their analysis also showed that the participants’ news sources, number of social supports, and face-to-face time with others did not meaningfully affect their levels of depression.

In an intriguing set of findings, the researchers identified links between particular social-media platforms and depression in certain age groups. For example, Facebook use was associated with depression among people younger than 35, but not for those over 35. In the over-35 group, TikTok and Snapchat were connected to depression symptoms. “I think we have more work to do to understand why the associations are so different across different age groups of adults,” Perlis says. “I would say that was the thing that made me the most eager to do follow-up studies and try to understand what’s going on.”

Although the study can’t confirm why social media might be linked to depression, Perlis speculates that “what seems to be the case in kids is probably true in adults: constantly looking at images of people who appear to be happier than you, and more successful than you, who generally seem to have a better life than you, certainly doesn’t make most people feel better.” A barrage of negative images isn’t likely to help either. Social media is like “drinking from a firehose,” he says, in contrast with older forms of media, which offer smaller doses of potentially harmful images.

 As a neurobiologist, Perlis says this work falls outside his typical research areas. “I spend a lot of my time in the wet lab making stem-cell models of brain diseases,” he explains. But when the Kennedy School’s Della Volpe asked him to join the COVID States project to consider issues such as mental health and social-media use, he felt compelled to say yes. “I come at this as a psychiatrist, an epidemiologist, and a parent,” he says. “I wonder every day when I see my kids on their phones: What’s this doing exactly? How much is okay? As with so many other things, there probably are levels of use that are perfectly okay, and a point where maybe it becomes less healthy.” Answering all the unknowns about social media and mental health, including the question of “how much,” Perlis adds, requires future research.

He’s hoping to motivate “others who have been working closer in this area” to dive into such questions. If social media are being used by people who are vulnerable to mental-health problems, perhaps these platforms can be used creatively to reach them and provide help when needed, Perlis suggests. “How do we use social media to encourage healthy behaviors, so it potentially contributes to public health? That’s the sort of work that I’d like to see done.” 

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Social Media and Depression Symptoms: a Meta-Analysis

  • Published: 06 January 2021
  • Volume 49 , pages 241–253, ( 2021 )

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  • Simone Cunningham   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-4179-2812 1 ,
  • Chloe C. Hudson 1 &
  • Kate Harkness 1  

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Social Networking Sites (SNS) have close to 3 billion users worldwide. Recently, however, SNS have come under media scrutiny for their potential association with depression. Two previous meta-analyses failed to find evidence for a robust concurrent association between SNS use and depression symptoms. However, these analyses focused primarily on the time spent using SNS. The current meta-analysis is the first to consider the multi-dimensional nature of SNS use, and examines separately the quantitative associations of depression symptoms to SNS use in three types of SNS studies examining three distinct constructs of SNS use: time spent using SNS, intensity of SNS use, and problematic SNS use. Sixty-two studies ( N  = 451, 229) met inclusion criteria. Depression symptoms were significantly, but weakly, associated with time spent using SNS ( r  = 0.11) and intensity of SNS use ( r  = 0.09). However, the association of depression symptoms to problematic SNS use was moderate ( r  = 0.29), was significantly higher than for time spent using SNS ( Q between  = 35.85, p  < 0.001) or intensity of SNS use ( Q between  = 13.95, p  < 0.001), and was not significantly moderated by age, gender, year of study publication, or mode of recruitment. These results suggest that future research examining causal models of the relation of SNS use and depression, as well as research on intervention and prevention, should focus in more detail on individuals who are engaging in a pattern of problematic SNS use.

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Loyola University > Center for Digital Ethics & Policy > Research & Initiatives > Essays > Archive > 2018 > The Role of Social Media in Adolescent/Teen Depression and Anxiety

The role of social media in adolescent/teen depression and anxiety, april 3, 2018.

The adolescent and teen years have always been a challenging time. Peer pressure, insecurity and hormones are just some of the issues facing those in these age groups. But does social media exacerbate these problems?

For example, researchers from the Alberta Teachers’ Association, the University of Alberta, Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School released a  study  that found significant changes in students at every grade level as a result of digital technology. In the past three to five years, 90 percent of teachers at the University of Alberta saw increases in emotional challenges, 85 percent saw social challenges and 77 percent observed cognitive challenges. Also, 56 percent of teachers report an increase in the number of kids sharing stories about online harassment and/or cyberbullying. There are increases in other areas as well. The majority of teachers say there has been an increase in students diagnosed with the following conditions: anxiety disorders (85 percent), ADD and ADHD (75 percent), and such mood disorders as depression (73 percent).

Also, a recent  study  by researchers at the Royal Society for Public Health and Young Health Movement found that 91 percent of those between the ages of 16 and 24 said Instagram was the worst social media platform as it relates to mental health. Instagram was most likely to cause negative effects such as poor body image, fear of missing out and sleep deprivation. Snapchat came in second place, followed by Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The researchers theorize that Instagram and Snapchat are image-focused platforms and users compare themselves to others.

A  review  of 36 social media studies, published in JAMA Pediatrics, found that 23 percent of kids are victims of cyberbullying. The review also found that cyberbullying results in low self-esteem, depression, self-harm and behavioral problems — in both the victims and the bullies. In addition, cyberbullying was more likely to produce suicidal thoughts than traditional bullying.

Another  study , conducted by researchers at Glasgow University found that kids (some of whom were pre-teens) were on social media until the wee morning hours, and some were on more than one device (for example, a phone and a tablet) so they could simultaneously view multiple sites. These individuals reported lower sleep quality rates in addition to higher levels of depression and anxiety.

In a  survey  by the National Campaign to Support Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, almost 20 percent of teens admitted to participating in "sexting" or sending nude photos.

The pressure these adolescents and teens feel can be intensified by the time they get to college. Stanford University coined the phrase “ Duck syndrome ” to describe the erroneous attitude of incoming freshmen that they’re struggling while everyone else is gliding along smoothly — but in reality, the gliders are also “paddling furiously under the water just to keep up.” Adolescents and teens become accustomed to creating the impression that everything is perfect to match the equally perfect posts of their friends. But it becomes too difficult to maintain this façade, resulting in  suicide  among college students who appear to be well-adjusted, but are actually experiencing mental and emotional problems.

Another  report , published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, reveals that among young adults between the ages of 19 and 32, those with high social media usage (those logging on for more than 2 hours a day and checking their accounts 58 times a week) were more likely to deal with feelings of isolation than those with low social media use (they logged on for 30 minutes and checked their accounts 9 times a week). 

In light of these studies, who is responsible for the role of social media in adolescent/teen depression and anxiety?

Many tech leaders seem to understand the unhealthy, addictive nature of technology in general and social media in particular. As far back as 2010, New York Times reporter Nick Bilton  interviewed  the late Steve Jobs of Apple. Jobs told Bilton that he limited the amount of technology that his kids use. Bill Gates  shared  that he didn’t let his kids have mobile devices until they were 14 years old, and he sets a time for them to turn off the devices at night.  

Evan Williams, one of the founders of Twitter, Medium and Blogger, told Bilton that his kids read physical books instead of using iPads. Dick Costolo, former CEO of Twitter, told Bilton that his teenagers had to be in the living room when they used their tech devices.

But, perhaps the most shocking revelation came from Sean Parker, former president of Facebook, in an  interview  with Axios. Referring to Facebook, Parker said, “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”

But there’s more. Parker also said, “ . . . How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible? . . . And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever . . . And that's going to get you to contribute more content, and that's going to get you ... more likes and comments . . . It's a social-validation feedback loop ... exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you're exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology . . . The inventors, creators — it's me, it's Mark [Zuckerberg], it's Kevin Systrom on Instagram, it's all of these people — understood this consciously . . . And we did it anyway.”

So, if Parker confessed that social media was designed to be addictive, should social media companies be responsible for depression, anxiety, bullying and other issues among adolescents and teens?

Donna Shea, director of  The Peter Pan Center  for Social and Emotional Growth, and Nadine Briggs, director of  Simply Social Kids , are passionate about helping kids make and keep friends, and together have formed How to Make and Keep Friends, LLC. Shea and Briggs both lead community-based social groups at their centers in Massachusetts and have also formed the Social Success in School initiative. The two have also written several books for kids and teens, including, “Tips for Teens on Life and Social Success” .

Both Shea and Briggs believe that it is the job of parents to monitor their kid’s social media activity. “You wouldn’t allow your teen to put a lock on their bedroom door, but your teen is not only now interacting with peers at school or in your neighborhood, they are interacting with the entire world,” Shea said. “It is a parent’s job to be as involved in their teen’s online life as they are in their offline life.”

In fact, she is not in favor of giving adolescents and teens a phone as a gift. “Mobile devices belong to the parent and the teen is being  allowed  to use it,” Shea said. “A contract can be a useful tool before putting a device in the hands of your teen which would allow parents to have access to the phone.”

She believes that parents should monitor their adolescent/teen’s activity — and teens should know this is being done. “Parents do not need to be sneaky about that — tell your child to hand over the phone,” she said. Shea also recommends that parents use subscription services to view all of their teens’ activities. “Teens should be prepared to be monitored until they are of legal adult age,” she said.

However, Briggs admits that apps change so quickly that it’s almost impossible to keep up with them. “Other than doing your best to monitor your teen’s activity —  and it won’t be 100% effective - it’s important from the very beginning that you teach your child and teen to be good consumers of what is available to them,” Briggs said. “This is the new norm, and we think it’s the parent’s responsibility to be involved in their teen’s online life.”

She compares giving kids a phone or device to putting them behind the wheel of a car. “Both can be dangerous in their own way, but teens can learn the responsibilities that go along with these more adult activities.”

But, do parents bear sole responsibility? For example, everyone knows that tobacco is bad for your health, and people consume it willingly; however, they continue to sue and win lawsuits against tobacco companies. In 2014, one plaintiff was  awarded $23.6 billion  when her husband died of lung cancer as a result of smoking up to three packs of cigarettes a day. He started smoking at the age of 13 and died at the age of 36. The plaintiff (his widow) argued that the tobacco company willfully deceived consumers with addictive products.

How is this scenario different from what social media companies are doing? And speaking of willful deception, what about companies that make  secretive apps  that allow teens to hide their sexting?

If someone trips and falls on your property, you could be sued. If someone gets harmed at your nightclub, you could be held liable for not having “adequate security.” If one of your employees sexually harasses a colleague, you would be held responsible — even if you didn’t know about it. If you sell alcohol, you’re responsible for making sure it doesn’t get into the hands of a minor. In fact, according to the Dram Shop Law, if you let an adult have too many drinks and this individual is involved in an accident, you could be responsible.

However, if kids become addicted to a communication platform that was designed to be addictive, if they’re bullied online, if there are no safeguards to stop them from utilizing the types of secretive apps that encourage risky behavior, shouldn’t these companies be held responsible?

I think they should be, but this is not likely to happen until society holds them responsible. Since most adults are also addicted to social media — and some of them are internet bullies and engage in sexting, it seems unlikely that they would advocate for changes.

In the aforementioned study by the Royal Society for Public Health and Young Health Movement, researchers offered several ways to reduce some of the problems adolescents and teens face online. For example, one of the reasons kids feel so much pressure to look perfect is because of the doctored photos they see. The researchers recommend that social media companies include some sort of notification, such as a watermark, when photos have been digitally manipulated (68 percent of surveyed students support this action).

Another suggestion is to create a social media cap. Users would be logged out if they went over a pre-determined usage level (30 percent of surveyed students agree with this suggestion).

The majority of surveyed students (84 percent) approve of schools having classes on safe social media. 

Another suggestion by the researchers (which did not include student responses) was to use social media posts to identify kids and teens who might be at risk for mental health problems. However, problems have already been identified with  using Facebook to identity potential problem drinkers .

In addition, it was suggested that youth workers be trained in digital media. 

These are nice Band-Aid solutions. But they don’t address the addictive nature of social media and the incredible amount of peer pressure that it involves. Parents can provide guidance, but history has shown that their values rarely outweigh the pressure of peers.

Albert Einstein once said, “We can’t solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them.” But in this situation, the social media giants can solve these problems with the exact same thinking they used to create them. Just as they figured out what it would take to make these platforms addictive, they can figure out what it would take to make the platforms less addictive. But don’t hold your breath because the person who creates the problem and profits from the problem has no incentive to solve the problem.

Terri Williams  writes for a variety of clients including USA Today , Yahoo , U.S. News & World Report , The Houston Chronicle , Investopedia , and Robert Half . She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Follow her on Twitter @Territoryone .

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Science News

Social media harms teens’ mental health, mounting evidence shows. what now.

Understanding what is going on in teens’ minds is necessary for targeted policy suggestions

A teen scrolls through social media alone on her phone.

Most teens use social media, often for hours on end. Some social scientists are confident that such use is harming their mental health. Now they want to pinpoint what explains the link.

Carol Yepes/Getty Images

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By Sujata Gupta

February 20, 2024 at 7:30 am

In January, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook’s parent company Meta, appeared at a congressional hearing to answer questions about how social media potentially harms children. Zuckerberg opened by saying: “The existing body of scientific work has not shown a causal link between using social media and young people having worse mental health.”

But many social scientists would disagree with that statement. In recent years, studies have started to show a causal link between teen social media use and reduced well-being or mood disorders, chiefly depression and anxiety.

Ironically, one of the most cited studies into this link focused on Facebook.

Researchers delved into whether the platform’s introduction across college campuses in the mid 2000s increased symptoms associated with depression and anxiety. The answer was a clear yes , says MIT economist Alexey Makarin, a coauthor of the study, which appeared in the November 2022 American Economic Review . “There is still a lot to be explored,” Makarin says, but “[to say] there is no causal evidence that social media causes mental health issues, to that I definitely object.”

The concern, and the studies, come from statistics showing that social media use in teens ages 13 to 17 is now almost ubiquitous. Two-thirds of teens report using TikTok, and some 60 percent of teens report using Instagram or Snapchat, a 2022 survey found. (Only 30 percent said they used Facebook.) Another survey showed that girls, on average, allot roughly 3.4 hours per day to TikTok, Instagram and Facebook, compared with roughly 2.1 hours among boys. At the same time, more teens are showing signs of depression than ever, especially girls ( SN: 6/30/23 ).

As more studies show a strong link between these phenomena, some researchers are starting to shift their attention to possible mechanisms. Why does social media use seem to trigger mental health problems? Why are those effects unevenly distributed among different groups, such as girls or young adults? And can the positives of social media be teased out from the negatives to provide more targeted guidance to teens, their caregivers and policymakers?

“You can’t design good public policy if you don’t know why things are happening,” says Scott Cunningham, an economist at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

Increasing rigor

Concerns over the effects of social media use in children have been circulating for years, resulting in a massive body of scientific literature. But those mostly correlational studies could not show if teen social media use was harming mental health or if teens with mental health problems were using more social media.

Moreover, the findings from such studies were often inconclusive, or the effects on mental health so small as to be inconsequential. In one study that received considerable media attention, psychologists Amy Orben and Andrew Przybylski combined data from three surveys to see if they could find a link between technology use, including social media, and reduced well-being. The duo gauged the well-being of over 355,000 teenagers by focusing on questions around depression, suicidal thinking and self-esteem.

Digital technology use was associated with a slight decrease in adolescent well-being , Orben, now of the University of Cambridge, and Przybylski, of the University of Oxford, reported in 2019 in Nature Human Behaviour . But the duo downplayed that finding, noting that researchers have observed similar drops in adolescent well-being associated with drinking milk, going to the movies or eating potatoes.

Holes have begun to appear in that narrative thanks to newer, more rigorous studies.

In one longitudinal study, researchers — including Orben and Przybylski — used survey data on social media use and well-being from over 17,400 teens and young adults to look at how individuals’ responses to a question gauging life satisfaction changed between 2011 and 2018. And they dug into how the responses varied by gender, age and time spent on social media.

Social media use was associated with a drop in well-being among teens during certain developmental periods, chiefly puberty and young adulthood, the team reported in 2022 in Nature Communications . That translated to lower well-being scores around ages 11 to 13 for girls and ages 14 to 15 for boys. Both groups also reported a drop in well-being around age 19. Moreover, among the older teens, the team found evidence for the Goldilocks Hypothesis: the idea that both too much and too little time spent on social media can harm mental health.

“There’s hardly any effect if you look over everybody. But if you look at specific age groups, at particularly what [Orben] calls ‘windows of sensitivity’ … you see these clear effects,” says L.J. Shrum, a consumer psychologist at HEC Paris who was not involved with this research. His review of studies related to teen social media use and mental health is forthcoming in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research.

Cause and effect

That longitudinal study hints at causation, researchers say. But one of the clearest ways to pin down cause and effect is through natural or quasi-experiments. For these in-the-wild experiments, researchers must identify situations where the rollout of a societal “treatment” is staggered across space and time. They can then compare outcomes among members of the group who received the treatment to those still in the queue — the control group.

That was the approach Makarin and his team used in their study of Facebook. The researchers homed in on the staggered rollout of Facebook across 775 college campuses from 2004 to 2006. They combined that rollout data with student responses to the National College Health Assessment, a widely used survey of college students’ mental and physical health.

The team then sought to understand if those survey questions captured diagnosable mental health problems. Specifically, they had roughly 500 undergraduate students respond to questions both in the National College Health Assessment and in validated screening tools for depression and anxiety. They found that mental health scores on the assessment predicted scores on the screenings. That suggested that a drop in well-being on the college survey was a good proxy for a corresponding increase in diagnosable mental health disorders. 

Compared with campuses that had not yet gained access to Facebook, college campuses with Facebook experienced a 2 percentage point increase in the number of students who met the diagnostic criteria for anxiety or depression, the team found.

When it comes to showing a causal link between social media use in teens and worse mental health, “that study really is the crown jewel right now,” says Cunningham, who was not involved in that research.

A need for nuance

The social media landscape today is vastly different than the landscape of 20 years ago. Facebook is now optimized for maximum addiction, Shrum says, and other newer platforms, such as Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok, have since copied and built on those features. Paired with the ubiquity of social media in general, the negative effects on mental health may well be larger now.

Moreover, social media research tends to focus on young adults — an easier cohort to study than minors. That needs to change, Cunningham says. “Most of us are worried about our high school kids and younger.” 

And so, researchers must pivot accordingly. Crucially, simple comparisons of social media users and nonusers no longer make sense. As Orben and Przybylski’s 2022 work suggested, a teen not on social media might well feel worse than one who briefly logs on. 

Researchers must also dig into why, and under what circumstances, social media use can harm mental health, Cunningham says. Explanations for this link abound. For instance, social media is thought to crowd out other activities or increase people’s likelihood of comparing themselves unfavorably with others. But big data studies, with their reliance on existing surveys and statistical analyses, cannot address those deeper questions. “These kinds of papers, there’s nothing you can really ask … to find these plausible mechanisms,” Cunningham says.

One ongoing effort to understand social media use from this more nuanced vantage point is the SMART Schools project out of the University of Birmingham in England. Pedagogical expert Victoria Goodyear and her team are comparing mental and physical health outcomes among children who attend schools that have restricted cell phone use to those attending schools without such a policy. The researchers described the protocol of that study of 30 schools and over 1,000 students in the July BMJ Open.

Goodyear and colleagues are also combining that natural experiment with qualitative research. They met with 36 five-person focus groups each consisting of all students, all parents or all educators at six of those schools. The team hopes to learn how students use their phones during the day, how usage practices make students feel, and what the various parties think of restrictions on cell phone use during the school day.

Talking to teens and those in their orbit is the best way to get at the mechanisms by which social media influences well-being — for better or worse, Goodyear says. Moving beyond big data to this more personal approach, however, takes considerable time and effort. “Social media has increased in pace and momentum very, very quickly,” she says. “And research takes a long time to catch up with that process.”

Until that catch-up occurs, though, researchers cannot dole out much advice. “What guidance could we provide to young people, parents and schools to help maintain the positives of social media use?” Goodyear asks. “There’s not concrete evidence yet.”

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Effect of Social Media on Depression Essay

Mock data analysis, research questions, reference list.

In research on the effects of social media on depression, the results from the questionnaire can be analyzed to facilitate the answering of the research questions and interpretation to make appropriate conclusions. In the research, a sample that represented the population under study was selected for a number of reasons.

According to Veerman, Dowrick, Ayuso-Mateos, Dunn, and Barendregt (2009), sampling allows reduction in the time taken to carry out research. It also reduces the workload on the researcher while at the same time allowing room for the attainment of results that can be generalizable to the population under study (Veerman et al., 2009).

For the purpose of this study, random sampling was utilized. This ensured that the population selected was representative of the total population.

The sample consisted of 160 participants who responded to the questions in the questionnaires that were sent to them. The participants were also interviewed, with their ages being between the ages of 12-28 years. Some of the questions that they had to answer included their goals in joining social media, the number of friends that each respondent had on social media, and the feeling derived from having the number of friends.

The questions also served to evaluate whether the participants were at any time victims of cyber bullying and/or if they had participated in sexting. The evaluation of depression in the respondents was also done through the questionnaires and Beck Depression Inventory second edition (BDI-II-II), which is one of the tools that are useful in the diagnosis and evaluation of depression (Beck, Steer, Ball, & Ranieri 1996).

All the 160 people invited for the study agreed to participate by complying with the set requirements, which included being in at least one social network. Their average age was 19.6 years (SD=0.31 years). 54 (33.75%) were male, with the rest 104 (66.25%) being female.

The average age for the male participants was 20.2 years (SD=0.32), with the average age for the female participants being 19.0 years (SD= 0.31). All the 160 participants answered the question of the reason why they joined the social media.

Most of them had more than one reason of joining the social sites, with peer pressure emerging on top, with all participants (100%) ticking the option that they joined because their friends were also there.

The other reasons that featured included to have fun 136(85%), to socialize with other people of their age 128 (80%), to avoid being bored 106 (66.25%), to pass time 88 (55%), to update themselves on the latest social news and trends 132 (82.5%), and to track other individuals 48 (30%), with some 24 (15%) stating other reasons.

Figure 1: reasons for joining social sites in percentages

In responding to the number of friends that each of the respondents had on the social sites, 20 (%) had 0 to 100 friends, 48 (%) had between 100 to 500 friends 64 (%) had 500 to 1000 friends, with the rest 28 (%) having over 1000 friends on these social sites. These respondents also stated a number of feelings that they derived from having the number of friends that they stated.

Most of them stated that they were happy with having many friends, with others feeling that they were socially fulfilled. According to Mitrofan, Paul, and Spencer, teenager’s and other people participating in social network sites generally state that they have a social obligation to participate there and that not being in any social site comes with the feeling of social deficiency (2009).

Figure 2: Number of friends on social sites per respondent

The next question the respondents had to answer pertained to the experiences in relation to cyber bullying that they had in the past. Cyber bullying is currently a common problem on the social sites, affecting a significant population of individuals in these sites (Mitrofan et al., 2009).

Over half of the respondents (86 or 53.75%) had had any experience with cyber bullying. 82 of these were the victims, with 22 admitting to have cyber bullied at one time. This represented a significant problem in the population under study.

In the question of how many had participated in sexting, almost all 128 respondents responded positively as having participated in one way or the other. The analysis of these results was done manually, with qualitative approach being used in the analysis. The data on depression was also transferred and interpreted.

Figure 3: prevalence of depression

It was evident that all participants were found as positively having experienced psychological disturbance because of social media. The depression in these participants was, however, subclinical with only 10 (6.25%) students having moderate depression.

Most of the students 104 (65%) had minimal depression, with 46 (28.75%) having mild depression in the study. This shows that the prevalence of depression is high. The results have a positive correlation with the assumption made at the beginning of the mock study.

In this section, a discussion of the above results is provided. The major conclusions are also made. The study finds that most of the participants had joined social media because of having their friends on the site. This finding amounted to peer-pressure.

Peer pressure is one of the main causes of teenagers and other individuals being in social sites. The study therefore with the mock data that is provided supports the notion that most of the social sites are dependent on this influence to grow the number of their participants.

The other reasons that the participants cited indicate an underlying need to reach out to the society mainly in the participation of activities that are approved by their peers. The participants cited that the reason for being on the social sites is to have fun in the process through interaction with the other people.

This indicates a widespread acceptance of social sites in the activities of daily living. The participants felt an obligation to participate in the social activity to derive fun from it. Some of the reasons that the participants cited such as keeping track of other people were precedents of cyber bullying, with most of the participants who tracked others participating in the act of cyber bullying.

The number of friends that the participants of the mock study had in their social sites was also related to the degree of depression that they experienced. Those individuals with fewer friends were relatively more depressed as measured with the study tool.

This situation may be due to the feeling of disapproval from their peers (Pantic, Damjanovic, Todorovic, Topalovic, Bojovic-Jovic, Ristic, & Pantic, 2012, p. 92). Most of the participants viewed having many friends on social sites as being a good feeling and that they were happy when they had many of them.

They also reported that having fewer of the friends was boring. It suffices therefore to interpret that having few friends on the social sites was a predisposition to depression and that if people have few friends on the social sites; they are more likely to be depressed as compared to those who have many of the friends.

Cyber bullying is an important subject that is under discussion at many levels, with many organizations being involved in studies to estimate its prevalence and apparent harm (Lépine, & Briley, 2011). In this particular research, more than half of the participants reported experiencing or participating in cyber bullying. A significant number also reported that they had participated in cyber bullying.

The results indicate that the problem is still very prevalent among internet users. It may also be the cause of depression that the users reported experiencing. With several people reporting that they were responsible for the same, this outcome shows that ordinary people who have access to the internet are propagating the acts (Pantic et al., 2012, p. 92).

A significant proportion had also participated in sexting. This finding was also an indicator of how deeply entrenched the practice is in the social site fans (Pantic et al., 2012, p. 92).

Several ways may be used in the detection and measurement of depression in individuals. The most common of them is the use of questionnaires, with examples being the Patient Health Questionnaire (PAQ), Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS), and Beck Depression Inventory-second edition (BDI-II) as evidenced in this study (Pantic et al., 2012, p. 92).

This tool of depression measurement is an effective one after having been used in a number of studies (Pantic et al., 2012, p. 92). Depression can be because of many factors in a society. Those with prevalent use of social sites are recognized as having a higher incidence of the same.

The results of the study above indicate that the prevalence of depression is high in individuals with usage of social sites. Some of the factors under the study such as the prevalence of cyber bullying, peer pressure, and sexting can be associated with depression in persons with usage of the social sites. The results correlate with those of other studies such as the one done by Gonzales and Hancock (2011).

Their study showed evidence of Facebook usage being related to individuals’ self-esteem. In their study, the researchers attempted to answer the question of whether concentration on an person’s silhouette as compared to “other people’s profile on the social site, the act of editing the profiles, and some of the other activities on the site may have any effect on the self-esteem of these individuals” (Gonzales,& Hancock, 2011).

With the above evidence of effects of social sites on self-esteem, it would be correct to match them with depression since low self-esteem is a factor in depression. The data above obtained from the mock study is in support of the assumption that depression is related to participation in social sites and that the age group that participated has a very high prevalence of depression.

The main limitation to the study is the relatively small sample used to carry out the research. Although this population is enough to make the valid conclusions for the study, a larger population will be more representative of the age group across the United States.

The formulation of research questions is important as it informs the researchers on the methodology to be applied, the expected results, and the likely conclusions (Pantic, Damjanovic, Todorovic, Topalovic, Bojovic-Jovic, Ristic, & Pantic, 2011). Research questions also ensure that the researcher sticks to the objectives of the research, thus allowing him or her chance to make the most conclusions from the research.

The research questions also allow researchers to determine the most effective data analysis for their study and the best ways of analyzing the data. In the research above, five questions were developed that required the gathering and analysis of qualitative data to answer. These will be listed below, with an explanation of the scope of each.

Why do the participants join social media sites?

Several studies have been done on the reasons why people join social sites. The studies have had important results. According to most researchers, the reason why people join the social sites may be to get some sort of satisfaction (Pantic et al., 2011). Could the reasons behind the joining of social sites be a contributor to depression?

If so, how do the reasons for joining these social sites and networks affect depression? Answering the question of why people join social sites is important in the making of conclusions in the study above.

The question will also lead to the development of other questions as to why some reasons are more prevalent in relation to others, and whether this may have any bearing on depression. A proper evaluation of the answers to the question will also be crucial in the determination of the intended results.

How many friends does each respondent have on social media?

There have been several studies trying to relate to the popularity of individuals on the social site to self-esteem that they develop. The popularity of individuals is found to have a positive correlation with the self-esteem that they develop in these studies.

One of the indicators of popularity on these social sites is the number of friends that they have. It is therefore likely that the numbers of friends per individual in a social site can correlate with the prevalence of depression. This forms a major objective of the study. The question serves to satisfy one of the objectives.

What feeling do the participants derive from having the number of friends?

Depression is a disorder in the emotional conditions of an individual. It is mainly characterized by low mood among other symptoms (de Wit, van Straten, Lamers, Cuijpers, & Penninx, 2011). The condition is therefore related to a number of feelings that people state they experience. In the diagnosis of depression, the main assessment is in the mood of the individual.

This mood is used as a reliable indicator of the individual’s state of mind. In the above study, it is important to know the feelings of the participants in their interactions with the social sites. One of the feelings is the one they feel when they have a particular amount of friends. The above question therefore serves to fulfill this purpose.

How prevalent is cyber bullying and sexting?

As stated earlier, cyber bulling is one of the contemporary problems that have occurred in the internet age. The prevalence has also been the subject of many studies. Many of the researchers report an increase in the same. Sexting is also one of the problems that have emerged with the advances in the field of telecommunication and internet. There exist few literature materials on its prevalence.

With the assumption that sexting and cyber bullying are important influential elements to the development of depression that relates to social sites, the answers to the question above will present the research with a basic indication of their prevalence in the population.

A high prevalence among social site users with depression would indicate that the two elements contribute to the depression observed in this population.

How prevalent is depression among social site users?

This inquiry forms the basis of the issue that the research attempts to investigate. The question stems from the main objective of the research, which is to evaluate the effects of social sites on depression. In the study above, the mock data shows a positive correlation between participation in social sites and the prevalence of depression.

Some researchers have also suggested the existence of depression in people using the internet and social sites. Some of the recommendations made in their research include the inference that there should be more research on the topic.

To facilitate in the answering of questions on the main effects of social sites in the causation of depression, it is important in this study to see how many of the participants have depression (Ickes, Wicklund, & Ferris, 1973).

Having a large number of these participants with depression means that the social sites can be associated with the same thing. The question serves to quantify the prevalence of depression to help in the important goal of finding a relationship between social sites and depression.

de Wit, L., van Straten, A., Lamers, F., Cuijpers, P., & Penninx, B. (2011). Are sedentary television watching and computer use behaviors associated with anxiety and depressive disorders? Psychiatry Res, 186 (2), 239-43.

Ickes, W., Wicklund, R, & Ferris, C. (1973). Objective self-awareness and self-esteem. J Exp Soc Psychol, 9 (1), 202–19.

Pantic, I., Malbasa, M., Ristic, S., Turjacanin, D., Medenica, S., Paunovic, J., & Pantic, S. (2011). Screen viewing, BMI, cigarette smoking and sleep duration in Belgrade University student population: results of an observational, cross-sectional study . Rev Med Chil, 139 (1), 896-901.

Beck, A., Steer, R., Ball, R., & Ranieri, W. (1996). Comparison of Beck Depression Inventories -IA and -II in psychiatric outpatients. J Pers Assess, 67 (1), 588-97.

Mitrofan, O., Paul, M., & Spencer, N. (2009). Is aggression in children with behavioral and emotional difficulties associated with television viewing and video game playing? A systematic review. Child Care Health Dev, 35 (1), 5-15.

Veerman, J., Dowrick, C., Ayuso-Mateos, J., Dunn, G., & Barendregt, J. (2009). Population prevalence of depression and mean Beck Depression Inventory score . Br J Psychiatry, 195 (1), 516-9.

Gonzales, A., & Hancock, J. (2011). Mirror, mirror on my Facebook wall: effects of exposure to Facebook on self-esteem. Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw, 4 (1), 79-83.

Lépine, J., & Briley, M. (2011). The increasing burden of depression. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat, 7 (1), 3-7.

Pantic, I., Damjanovic, A., Todorovic, J., Topalovic, D., Bojovic-Jovic, D., Ristic, S., & Pantic, S. (2012). Association Between Online Social Networking and Depression in High School Students: Behavioral Physiology Viewpoint. Psychiatria Danubina, 24 (1), 90–93.

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IvyPanda. (2023, December 2). Effect of Social Media on Depression. https://ivypanda.com/essays/effect-of-social-media-on-depression-essay/

"Effect of Social Media on Depression." IvyPanda , 2 Dec. 2023, ivypanda.com/essays/effect-of-social-media-on-depression-essay/.

IvyPanda . (2023) 'Effect of Social Media on Depression'. 2 December.

IvyPanda . 2023. "Effect of Social Media on Depression." December 2, 2023. https://ivypanda.com/essays/effect-of-social-media-on-depression-essay/.

1. IvyPanda . "Effect of Social Media on Depression." December 2, 2023. https://ivypanda.com/essays/effect-of-social-media-on-depression-essay/.


IvyPanda . "Effect of Social Media on Depression." December 2, 2023. https://ivypanda.com/essays/effect-of-social-media-on-depression-essay/.

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  • 29 March 2024

The great rewiring: is social media really behind an epidemic of teenage mental illness?

  • Candice L. Odgers 0

Candice L. Odgers is the associate dean for research and a professor of psychological science and informatics at the University of California, Irvine. She also co-leads international networks on child development for both the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research in Toronto and the Jacobs Foundation based in Zurich, Switzerland.

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A teenage girl lies on the bed in her room lightened with orange and teal neon lights and watches a movie on her mobile phone.

Social-media platforms aren’t always social. Credit: Getty

The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness Jonathan Haidt Allen Lane (2024)

Two things need to be said after reading The Anxious Generation . First, this book is going to sell a lot of copies, because Jonathan Haidt is telling a scary story about children’s development that many parents are primed to believe. Second, the book’s repeated suggestion that digital technologies are rewiring our children’s brains and causing an epidemic of mental illness is not supported by science. Worse, the bold proposal that social media is to blame might distract us from effectively responding to the real causes of the current mental-health crisis in young people.

Haidt asserts that the great rewiring of children’s brains has taken place by “designing a firehose of addictive content that entered through kids’ eyes and ears”. And that “by displacing physical play and in-person socializing, these companies have rewired childhood and changed human development on an almost unimaginable scale”. Such serious claims require serious evidence.

essay on social media causing depression

Collection: Promoting youth mental health

Haidt supplies graphs throughout the book showing that digital-technology use and adolescent mental-health problems are rising together. On the first day of the graduate statistics class I teach, I draw similar lines on a board that seem to connect two disparate phenomena, and ask the students what they think is happening. Within minutes, the students usually begin telling elaborate stories about how the two phenomena are related, even describing how one could cause the other. The plots presented throughout this book will be useful in teaching my students the fundamentals of causal inference, and how to avoid making up stories by simply looking at trend lines.

Hundreds of researchers, myself included, have searched for the kind of large effects suggested by Haidt. Our efforts have produced a mix of no, small and mixed associations. Most data are correlative. When associations over time are found, they suggest not that social-media use predicts or causes depression, but that young people who already have mental-health problems use such platforms more often or in different ways from their healthy peers 1 .

These are not just our data or my opinion. Several meta-analyses and systematic reviews converge on the same message 2 – 5 . An analysis done in 72 countries shows no consistent or measurable associations between well-being and the roll-out of social media globally 6 . Moreover, findings from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development study, the largest long-term study of adolescent brain development in the United States, has found no evidence of drastic changes associated with digital-technology use 7 . Haidt, a social psychologist at New York University, is a gifted storyteller, but his tale is currently one searching for evidence.

Of course, our current understanding is incomplete, and more research is always needed. As a psychologist who has studied children’s and adolescents’ mental health for the past 20 years and tracked their well-being and digital-technology use, I appreciate the frustration and desire for simple answers. As a parent of adolescents, I would also like to identify a simple source for the sadness and pain that this generation is reporting.

A complex problem

There are, unfortunately, no simple answers. The onset and development of mental disorders, such as anxiety and depression, are driven by a complex set of genetic and environmental factors. Suicide rates among people in most age groups have been increasing steadily for the past 20 years in the United States. Researchers cite access to guns, exposure to violence, structural discrimination and racism, sexism and sexual abuse, the opioid epidemic, economic hardship and social isolation as leading contributors 8 .

essay on social media causing depression

How social media affects teen mental health: a missing link

The current generation of adolescents was raised in the aftermath of the great recession of 2008. Haidt suggests that the resulting deprivation cannot be a factor, because unemployment has gone down. But analyses of the differential impacts of economic shocks have shown that families in the bottom 20% of the income distribution continue to experience harm 9 . In the United States, close to one in six children live below the poverty line while also growing up at the time of an opioid crisis, school shootings and increasing unrest because of racial and sexual discrimination and violence.

The good news is that more young people are talking openly about their symptoms and mental-health struggles than ever before. The bad news is that insufficient services are available to address their needs. In the United States, there is, on average, one school psychologist for every 1,119 students 10 .

Haidt’s work on emotion, culture and morality has been influential; and, in fairness, he admits that he is no specialist in clinical psychology, child development or media studies. In previous books, he has used the analogy of an elephant and its rider to argue how our gut reactions (the elephant) can drag along our rational minds (the rider). Subsequent research has shown how easy it is to pick out evidence to support our initial gut reactions to an issue. That we should question assumptions that we think are true carefully is a lesson from Haidt’s own work. Everyone used to ‘know’ that the world was flat. The falsification of previous assumptions by testing them against data can prevent us from being the rider dragged along by the elephant.

A generation in crisis

Two things can be independently true about social media. First, that there is no evidence that using these platforms is rewiring children’s brains or driving an epidemic of mental illness. Second, that considerable reforms to these platforms are required, given how much time young people spend on them. Many of Haidt’s solutions for parents, adolescents, educators and big technology firms are reasonable, including stricter content-moderation policies and requiring companies to take user age into account when designing platforms and algorithms. Others, such as age-based restrictions and bans on mobile devices, are unlikely to be effective in practice — or worse, could backfire given what we know about adolescent behaviour.

A third truth is that we have a generation in crisis and in desperate need of the best of what science and evidence-based solutions can offer. Unfortunately, our time is being spent telling stories that are unsupported by research and that do little to support young people who need, and deserve, more.

Nature 628 , 29-30 (2024)

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The truth about teens, social media and the mental health crisis.

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essay on social media causing depression

For years, the research picture on how social media affects teen mental health has been murky. That is changing as scientists find new tools to answer the question. Olivier Douliery /AFP via Getty Images hide caption

For years, the research picture on how social media affects teen mental health has been murky. That is changing as scientists find new tools to answer the question.

Back in 2017, psychologist Jean Twenge set off a firestorm in the field of psychology.

Twenge studies generational trends at San Diego State University. When she looked at mental health metrics for teenagers around 2012, what she saw shocked her. "In all my analyses of generational data — some reaching back to the 1930s — I had never seen anything like it," Twenge wrote in the Atlantic in 2017.

Twenge warned of a mental health crisis on the horizon. Rates of depression, anxiety and loneliness were rising. And she had a hypothesis for the cause: smartphones and all the social media that comes along with them. "Smartphones were used by the majority of Americans around 2012, and that's the same time loneliness increases. That's very suspicious," Twenge told NPR in 2017.

But many of her colleagues were skeptical. Some even accused her of inciting a panic with too little — and too weak — data to back her claims.

Now, six years later, Twenge is back. She has a new book out this week, called Generations , with much more data backing her hypothesis. At the same time, several high-quality studies have begun to answer critical questions, such as does social media cause teens to become depressed and is it a key contributor to a rise in depression?

In particular, studies from three different types of experiments, altogether, point in the same direction. "Indeed, I think the picture is getting more and more consistent," says economist Alexey Makarin , at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

How to help young people limit screen time — and feel better about how they look

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How to help young people limit screen time — and feel better about how they look, a seismic change in how teens spend their time.

In Generations , Twenge analyzes mental health trends for five age groups, from the Silent Generation, who were born between 1925 and 1945, to Gen Z, who were born between 1995 and 2012. She shows definitively that "the way teens spend their time outside of school fundamentally changed in 2012," as Twenge writes in the book.

Take for instance, hanging out with friends, in person. Since 1976, the number of times per week teens go out with friends — and without their parents — held basically steady for nearly 30 years. In 2004, it slid a bit. Then in 2010, it nosedived.

"It was just like a Black Diamond ski slope straight down," Twenge tells NPR. "So these really big changes occur."

At the same time, around 2012, time on social media began to soar. In 2009, only about half of teens used social media every day, Twenge reports. In 2017, 85% used it daily. By 2022, 95% of teens said they use some social media, and about a third say they use it constantly, a poll from Pew Research Center found .

"Now, in the most recent data, 22% of 10th grade girls spend seven or more hours a day on social media," Twenge says, which means many teenage girls are doing little else than sleeping, going to school and engaging with social media.

Not surprisingly, all this screen time has cut into many kids' sleep time. Between 2010 and 2021, the percentage of 10th and 12th graders who slept seven or fewer hours each night rose from a third to nearly one-half. "That's a big jump," Twenge says. "Kids in that age group are supposed to sleep nine hours a night. So less than seven hours is a really serious problem."

Teen girls and LGBTQ+ youth plagued by violence and trauma, survey says

Teen girls and LGBTQ+ youth plagued by violence and trauma, survey says

On its own, sleep deprivation can cause mental health issues. "Sleep is absolutely crucial for physical health and for mental health. Not getting enough sleep is a major risk factor for anxiety and depression and self-harm," she explains. Unfortunately, all of those mental health problems have continued to rise since Twenge first sounded the alarm six years ago.

"Nuclear bomb" on teen social life

"Every indicator of mental health and psychological well-being has become more negative among teens and young adults since 2012," Twenge writes in Generations . "The trends are stunning in their consistency, breadth and size."

Across the board, since 2010, anxiety, depression and loneliness have all increased . "And it's not just symptoms that rose, but also behaviors," she says, "including emergency room visits for self-harm, for suicide attempts and completed suicides." The data goes up through 2019, so it doesn't include changes due to COVID-19.

All these rapid changes coincide with what, Twenge says, may be the most rapid uptake in a new technology in human history: the incorporation of smartphones into our lives, which has allowed nearly nonstop engagement with social media apps. Apple introduced the first iPhones in 2007, and by 2012, about 50% of American adults owned a smartphone, the Pew Research Center found .

The timing is hard to ignore, says data scientist Chris Said , who has a Ph.D. in psychology from Princeton University and has worked at Facebook and Twitter. "Social media was like a nuclear bomb on teen social life," he says. "I don't think there's anything in recent memory, or even distant history, that has changed the way teens socialize as much as social media."

Murky picture becomes clearer on causes of teen depression

But the timing doesn't tell you whether social media actually causes depression in teens.

In the past decade, scientists have published a whole slew of studies trying to answer this question, and those studies sparked intense debate among scientists and in the media. But, Said says, what many people don't realize is scientists weren't using — or didn't even have — the proper tools to answer the question. "This is a very hard problem to study," he says. "The data they were analyzing couldn't really solve the problem."

Mental Health

The mental health of teen girls and lgbtq+ teens has worsened since 2011.

So the findings have been all over the place. They've been murky, noisy, inconclusive and confusing. "When you use tools that can't fully answer the question, you're going to get weak answers," he says. "So I think that's one reason why really strong evidence didn't show up in the data, at least early on."

On top of it, psychology has a bad track record in this field, Said points out. For nearly a century, psychologists have repeatedly blamed new technologies for mental and physical health problems of children, even when they've had little — or shady — data to back up their claims.

For example, in the 1940s, psychologists worried that children were becoming addicted to radio crime dramas, psychologist Amy Orben at the University of Cambridge explains in her doctoral thesis. After that, they raised concerns about comic books, television and — eventually — video games. Thus, many researchers worried that social media may simply be the newest scapegoat for children's mental health issues.

A handful of scientists, including MIT's Alexey Makarin, noticed this problem with the data, the tools and the field's past failures, and so they took the matter into their own hands. They went out and found better tools.

Hundreds of thousands of more college students depressed

Over the past few years, several high-quality studies have come that can directly test whether social media causes depression. Instead of being murky and mixed, they support each other and show clear effects of social media. "The body of literature seems to suggest that indeed, social media has negative effects on mental health, especially on young adults' mental health," says Makarin, who led what many scientists say is the best study on the topic to date.

In that study, Makarin and his team took advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: the staggered introduction of Facebook across U.S. colleges from 2004 to 2006. Facebook rolled out into society first on college campuses, but not all campuses introduced Facebook at the same time.

For Makarin and his colleagues, this staggered rollout is experimental gold.

"It allowed us to compare students' mental health between colleges where Facebook just arrived to colleges where Facebook had not yet arrived," he says. They could also measure how students' mental health shifted on a particular campus when people started to spend a bunch of their time on social media.

Luckily, his team could track mental health at the time because college administrators were also conducting a national survey that asked students an array of questions about their mental health, including diagnoses, therapies and medications for depression, anxiety and eating disorders. "These are not just people's feelings," Makarin says. "These are actual conditions that people have to report."

They had data on a large number of students. "The data comes from more than 350,000 student responses across more than 300 colleges," Makarin says.

This type of study is called a quasi-experiment, and it allows scientists to estimate how much social media actually changes teens' mental health, or as Makarin says, "We can get causal estimates of the impact of Facebook on mental health."

So what happened? "Almost immediately after Facebook arrives on campus, we see an uptick in mental health issues that students report," Makarin says. "We especially find an impact on depression rates, anxiety disorders and other questions associated with depression in general."

And the effect isn't small, he says. Across the population, the rollout of Facebook caused about 2% of college students to become clinically depressed. That may sound modest, but with more than 17 million college students in the U.S. at the time, that means Facebook caused more than 300,000 young adults to suffer from depression.

For an individual, on average, engaging with Facebook decreases their mental health by roughly 22% of the effect of losing one's job, as reported by a previous meta-analysis, Makarin and his team found.

Facebook's rollout had a larger effect on women's mental health than on men's mental health, the study showed. But the difference was small, Makarin says.

He and his colleagues published their findings last November in the American Economic Review . "I love that paper," says economist Matthew Gentzkow at Stanford University, who was not involved in the research. "It's probably the most convincing study I've seen. I think it shows a clear effect, and it's really credible. They did a good job of isolating the effect of Facebook, which isn't easy."

Of course, the study has limitations, Gentzkow says. First off, it's Facebook, which teens are using less and less. And the version of Facebook is barebones. In 2006, the platform didn't have a "like" button" or a "newsfeed." This older version probably wasn't as "potent" as social media now, says data scientist Chris Said. Furthermore, students used the platform only on a computer because smartphones weren't available yet. And the study only examined mental health impacts over a six-month period.

Nevertheless, the findings in this study bolster other recent studies, including one that Gentzkow led.

Social media is "like the ocean" for kids

Back in 2018, Gentzkow and his team recruited about 2,700 Facebook users ages 18 or over. They paid about half of them to deactivate their Facebook accounts for four weeks. Then Gentzkow and his team looked to see how a Facebook break shifted their mental health. They reported their findings in March 2020 in the American Economic Review.

This type of study is called a randomized experiment, and it's thought of as the best way to estimate whether a variable in life causes a particular problem. But with social media, these randomized experiments have big limitations. For one, the experiments are short-term — here only four weeks. Also, people use social media in clusters, not as individuals. So having individuals quit Facebook won't capture the effect of having an entire social group quit together. Both of these limitations could underestimate the impact of social media on an individual and community.

Nevertheless, Gentzkow could see how deactivating Facebook made people, on average, feel better. "Being off Facebook was positive across well-being outcomes," he says. "You see higher happiness, life satisfaction, and also lower depression, lower anxiety, and maybe a little bit lower loneliness."

Gentzkow and his team measured participants' well-being by giving them a survey at the end of the experiment but also asking questions, via text message, through the experiment. "For example, we sent people text messages that say, 'Right now, would you say you're feeling happy or not happy,'" he explains.

Again, as with Makarin's experiment, the effect was moderate. Gentzkow and his colleagues estimate that temporarily quitting Facebook improves a person's mental health by about 30% of the positive effect seen by going to therapy. "You could view that meaning these effects are pretty big," he explains, "or you could also see that as meaning that the effects of therapy are somewhat small. And I think both of those things are true to an extent."

Scientists still don't know to what extent social media is behind the rising mental health issues among teenagers and whether it is the primary cause. "It seems to be the case — like it's a big factor," says MIT's Alexey Makarin, "but that's still up for debate."

Still, though, other specifics are beginning to crystallize. Scientists are narrowing in on what aspects of social media are most problematic. And they can see that social media won't hurt every teen — or hurt them by the same amount. The data suggests that the more hours a child devotes to social media, the higher their risk for mental health problems.

Finally, some adolescents are likely more vulnerable to social media, and children may be more vulnerable at particular ages. A study published in February 2022 looked to see how time spent on social media varies with life satisfaction during different times in a child's life (see the graphic).

The researchers also looked to see if a child's present use of social media predicted a decrease of life satisfaction one year later. That data suggests two windows of time when children are most sensitive to detrimental effects of social media, especially heavy use of it. For girls, one window occurs at ages 11 through 13. And for boys, one window occurs at ages 14 and 15. For both genders, there's a window of sensitivity around age 19 — or near the time teenagers enter college. Amy Orben and her team at the University of Cambridge reported the findings in Nature Communications .

This type of evidence is known as a correlative. "It's hard to draw conclusions from these studies," Gentzkow says, because many factors contribute to life satisfaction, such as environmental factors and family backgrounds. Plus, people may use social media because they're depressed (and so depression could be the cause, not the outcome of social media use).

"Nevertheless, these correlative studies, together with the evidence from the causal experiments, paint a picture that suggests we should take social media seriously and be concerned," Gentzkow adds.

Psychologist Orben once heard a metaphor that may help parents understand how to approach this new technology. Social media for children is a bit like the ocean, she says, noting that it can be an extremely dangerous place for children. Before parents let children swim in any open water, they make sure the child is well-prepared and equipped to handle problems that arise. They provide safety vests, swimming lessons, often in less dangerous waters, and even then parents provide a huge amount of supervision.

Alyson Hurt created the graphic. Jane Greenhalgh and Diane Webber edited the story.

  • smartphones
  • mental health
  • social media

Phil Reed D.Phil.

Social Media

Can social media cause mental health conditions, what is the real relationship between using social media and poor mental health.

Posted March 28, 2024 | Reviewed by Michelle Quirk

  • Understanding any link requires an understanding of what diagnosis of a mental health condition involves.
  • Talk of causation can be misleading as to the nature of the needed exploration.
  • It may be better to examine the relationships between the social media use behavior and behaviors that emerge.

Legitimate questions have been asked for a long period concerning whether social media use causes particular mental health conditions. Mental health conditions such as depression , anxiety , autism spectrum disorder, attention -deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder have been linked with overuse of social media. If the development of such conditions is demonstrated to be correlated with the usage of social media, then whether a causal relationship exists appears to be an important and sensible question. However, understanding any link between social media use and mental health conditions is far from straightforward and requires a subtle understanding of what the diagnosis of a mental health condition involves.

4 Possible Reasons

There are several plausible answers to the question of what underlies the correlations often seen in the literature. Firstly, it could be that social media use leads to the development of mental health conditions. This answer implies a causal relationship and suggests that something about social media use is damaging to mental health. Secondly, it could be that mental health conditions lead to social media use. This answer suggests that the presence of mental health conditions somehow makes a person use social media more often, perhaps as a coping mechanism or management strategy. Thirdly, it may be that some third variable leads to the development of mental health conditions and overuse of social media; for instance, an attachment problem may provoke mental health issues as well as using social media to gain attachment that cannot otherwise be found. Finally, it could be argued that social media use produces behaviours similar to those seen in mental health conditions but that are not really the same as a mental health condition. For example, heavy selfie-posting on social media may lead to behaviours similar to those seen with narcissism, but that are not really narcissism.

All these solutions to why a correlation exists between social media overuse and mental health problems are legitimate, in the sense that all have been posited and all fall within the realm of sensible scientific discourse. However, there is an issue that all such attempts to address this relationship must grapple with, which concerns the nature of a mental health problem. All the above solutions, although different in their particulars, share one thing in common—namely, they all assume that there is such a thing as a mental health condition that can be caused. They all assume some kind of relatively straightforward "billiard ball" model of cause and effect—that is, one thing (e.g., social media use) impacts upon another (e.g., mental health) and sets the second thing in motion.

It may be that this sort of causal model does not capture the relationship between a particular behaviour (overuse of social media) and a set of subsequently co-occurring behaviours (the mental health condition). The first can be regarded as a single sort of thing—the use of a digital device—and this sort of thing could easily be fitted into a billiard-ball model of causation. However, the latter (the mental health condition) is not a thing in the sense that there is an "it," but rather, this is a concept, and it is far from clear that a concept is a type of thing that can be caused in a billiard ball sort of way.

There are many everyday conceptions of what a mental health condition is; often, people think of these conditions as illnesses, like a cold, that have signs and symptoms (e.g., coughs and sneezes) resulting from an underlying viral infection. In this conception, the cause-effect relationship is somewhat difficult to specify, as the virus does not cause the cold, but the virus is identical to the cold (and so cannot be its cause in any ordinary sense). The virus might possibly be said to be the cause of the signs and symptoms associated with the cold (although, this is tricky), or some event could be said to have caused the virus to act on the person. If this view of a mental health condition is to be followed, then any of the first three explanations as to the social-media-use and poor-mental-health relationship, noted above, must be examined carefully for their precise view of what is being caused by what.

However, in mental health, there is an aspect of the above cold-virus-symptoms relationship that is missing: There is no thing (like a virus) that underlies the signs and symptoms of a mental health condition. A mental health condition is defined, in all recognised diagnostic manuals, only as a cluster of signs and symptoms that, when occurring together in the appropriate numbers, are termed a "mental health condition." For example, for depression, there must exist together a minimum of five out of a possible nine behaviours; there is no depression independent of these behaviours. In this sense, social media use does not cause a mental health condition like a virus causes the signs and symptoms in a physical illness. The mental health condition does not exist beyond the signs and symptoms; it is identical with those signs and symptoms—note the contrast between the nature of the identity present in physical and mental health—and so cannot be their cause.

Looking for the Relationship Rather Than Causation

It may be more proper to look for the relationship between social media use and particular behaviours, rather than a mental health condition, per se. Once this view is taken, then the fourth view, outlined above—that social media use is related to particular behaviours that look like, but are not, particular mental health conditions—cannot be correct. If the behaviours are those that tick the boxes for a mental health condition, and they occur together in the appropriate numbers, then it is that mental health condition.

The upshot of any such analysis is that talk of causation between social media use and mental health conditions can be confusing and can be misleading as to the nature of the exploration that needs to be undertaken. It may be much more profitable to examine the functional relationships between the behaviour of social media use and the behaviours that subsequently emerge. To start searching for things that do not exist outside those behaviours can produce much wasted time and effort. It can also allow a degree of misdirection in terms of the harms that can be done by social media, by obscuring the important relationships involved.

Phil Reed D.Phil.

Phil Reed, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at Swansea University.

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social media and depression link

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Analysis of social media language using AI models predicts depression severity for white Americans, but not Black Americans

NIH-supported study also found Black people with depression used different language than white people to express their thoughts on Facebook

Black woman holding a toddler and walking down a city street.

Researchers were able to predict depression severity for white people, but not for Black people using standard language-based computer models to analyze Facebook posts. Words and phrases associated with depression, such as first-person pronouns and negative emotion words, were around three times more predictive of depression severity for white people than for Black people. The study , published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , is co-authored by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which also funded the study.

While previous research has indicated that social media language could provide useful information as part of mental health assessments, the findings from this study point to potential limitations in generalizing this practice by highlighting key demographic differences in language used by people with depression. The results also highlight the importance of including diverse pools of data to ensure accuracy as machine learning models, an application of artificial intelligence (AI) language models, are developed.

“As society explores the use of AI and other technologies to help deliver much-needed mental health care, we must ensure no one is left behind or misrepresented,” said Nora Volkow, M.D., NIDA director. “More diverse datasets are essential to ensure that healthcare disparities are not perpetuated by AI and that these new technologies can help tailor more effective health care interventions.”

The study, which recruited 868 consenting participants who identified themselves as Black or white, demonstrated that models trained on Facebook language used by white participants with self-reported depression showed strong predictive performance when tested on the white participants. However, when the same models were trained on Facebook language from Black participants, they performed poorly when tested on the Black participants, and showed only slightly better performance when tested on white participants.

While depression severity was associated with increased use of first-person singular pronouns (“I,” “me,” “my”) in white participants, this correlation was absent in Black participants. Additionally, white people used more language to describe feelings of belongingness (“weirdo,” “creep”), self-criticism (“mess,” “wreck”), being an anxious-outsider (“terrified,” “misunderstood”), self-deprecation (“worthless,” “crap”), and despair (“begging,” “hollow”) as depression severity increased, but there was no such correlation for Black people. For decades, clinicians have been aware of demographic differences in how people express depressive symptoms, and this study now demonstrates how this can play out in social media.

Language-based models hold promise as personalized, scalable, and affordable tools to screen for mental health disorders. For example, excessive self-referential language, such as the use of first-person pronouns, and negative emotions, such as self-deprecating language, are often regarded as clinical indicators of depression. However, there has been a notable absence of racial and ethnic consideration in assessing mental disorders through language, an exclusion that leads to inaccurate computer models. Despite evidence showing that demographic factors influence the language people use, previous studies have not systematically explored how race and ethnicity influence the relationship between depression and language expression.

Researchers set up this study to help bridge this gap. They analyzed past Facebook posts from Black and white people who self-reported depression severity through the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) – a standard self-report tool used by clinicians to screen for possible depression. The participants consented to share their Facebook status updates. Participants were primarily female (76%) and ranged from 18 to 72 years old. The researchers matched Black and white participants on age and sex so that data from the two groups would be comparable.

The study’s findings challenge assumptions about the link between the use of certain words and depression, particularly among Black participants. Current clinical practices in mental health that have not accounted for racial and ethnic nuances may be less relevant, or even irrelevant, to populations historically excluded from mental health research, the researchers note. They also hypothesize that depression may not manifest in language in the same way for some Black people – for example, tone or speech rate, instead of word selection, may relate more to depression among this population.

“Our research represents a step forward in building more inclusive language models. We must make sure that AI models incorporate everyone's voice to make technology fair for everyone,” said Brenda Curtis, Ph.D., MsPH, chief of the Technology and Translational Research Unit in the Translational Addiction Medicine Branch at NIDA’s Intramural Research Program and one of the study’s senior authors. “Paying attention to the racial nuances in how mental health is expressed lets medical professionals better understand when an individual needs help and provide more personalized interventions.”

Future studies will need to examine differences across other races and demographic features, using various social media platforms, the authors say. They also caveat that social media language is not analogous to everyday language, so future work on language-based models must take this into account.

“It’s important to note that social media language and language-based AI models are not able to diagnose mental health disorders – nor are they replacements for psychologists or therapists – but they do show immense promise to aid in screening and informing personalized interventions,” said the study’s lead author, Sunny Rai, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher in Computer and Information Science at the University of Pennsylvania. “Many improvements are needed before we can integrate AI into research or clinical practice, and the use of diverse, representative data is one of the most critical.”

For more information on substance and mental health treatment programs in your area, call the free and confidential National Helpline 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit FindTreatment.gov . Anyone who needs assistance with the first steps in pursuing help can find guidance at FindSupport.gov .

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs immediate help, call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. Learn more about suicide prevention and ways you can help someone who might be at risk for self-harm.

  • S Rai, et al. Key Language Markers of Depression on Social Media Depend on Race . The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences . DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2319837121 (2024).

About the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): NIDA is a component of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIDA supports most of the world’s research on the health aspects of drug use and addiction. The Institute carries out a large variety of programs to inform policy, improve practice, and advance addiction science. For more information about NIDA and its programs, visit www.nida.nih.gov .

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov .

About substance use disorders: Substance use disorders are chronic, treatable conditions from which people can recover. In 2022, nearly 49 million people in the United States had at least one substance use disorder. Substance use disorders are defined in part by continued use of substances despite negative consequences. They are also relapsing conditions, in which periods of abstinence (not using substances) can be followed by a return to use. Stigma can make individuals with substance use disorders less likely to seek treatment. Using preferred language can help accurately report on substance use and addiction. View NIDA’s online guide .

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Social Media Use and Depression in Adolescents: A Scoping Review

Associated data.

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

This scoping review aimed to investigate the association between depression and social media use among adolescents. The study analyzed 43 papers using five databases to identify articles published from 2012 to August 2022. The results revealed a connection between social media use and depression, as well as other negative outcomes such as anxiety, poor sleep, low self-esteem, and social and appearance anxiety. Surveys were the most used study strategy, with multiple common scales applied to assess depression, social media use, and other factors such as self-esteem and sleep quality. Among the studies, eight reported that females who use social media showed higher depression symptoms than males. This scoping review provides an overview of the current literature on the relationship between social media use and depression among adolescents. The findings emphasize the importance of monitoring social media use and providing support for individuals struggling with depression. However, more research is needed to better understand the factors contributing to this relationship and to develop more standardized assessment methods.

1. Introduction

1.1. background.

The term “social media” refers to websites and applications that emphasize communication, community-based input, interaction, content sharing, and collaboration [ 1 ]. There has been an increase in depressed adolescents in the US since 2012 [ 2 ]. Simultaneously, social media became more engaging which led to an increase in social media users [ 2 ]. According to the American Psychiatric Association [ 3 ], depression is a serious medical condition that can have a negative impact on how you feel, think, and act. Sadness and/or a loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities are symptoms of depression [ 3 ]. It can hinder your ability to function at work and home and cause various emotional and physical issues [ 3 ]. The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that depression affects 3.8% of the global population which corresponds to 280 million people [ 4 ]. The WHO defines adolescents as people between the ages of 10 and 19 [ 5 ]. Adolescence is the stage of life between childhood and adulthood. It is a distinct period in human development and crucial for setting the groundwork for long-term health. Teenagers grow quickly regarding their physical, cognitive, and emotional development. This impacts their emotions, thoughts, decisions, and interactions with others and their environment [ 5 ]. There has been an increase in the number of depressed adolescents over the past decade [ 6 ]. It is estimated that depression affects 1 in 7 adolescents [ 6 ]. Adolescents with depressive symptoms are susceptible to social stigma, discrimination, and cognitive problems. Some studies have shown that the increased use of social media has led to an increase in depressive symptoms [ 2 ].

A previous scoping review investigated the association between social media use and depression, examining four factors: quantity of social media use, quality of social networking site use, social aspects of social media use, and disclosure of mental health symptoms on social media [ 7 ]. However, this current review extends beyond these factors and includes articles until 2022, while the previous review only included articles until 2020. This review also focuses on the scales used to measure depression and social media use among adolescents and explores new areas of investigation such as gender differences, the impact of social media on sleep quality, and its relationship with depression. It provides an overview of current work and outlines future research questions in the area of social media use and depression among adolescents.

This scoping review will explore the association between social media and depression among adolescents. The review will consider sources focusing on depression in the specified age group.

This scoping review was performed by a team of 6 reviewers using Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI) scoping review method [ 8 ]. The scoping review process was carried out using PRISMA-ScR (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses Extension for Scoping Reviews) [ 9 ]. The review was conducted through five steps: identifying research question, checking relevant studies, study selection, data extraction, and data synthesis.

2.1. Search Strategy

2.1.1. search source.

The following bibliographical databases were searched for the current review: PubMed, Scopus, ProQuest Psychology Database, IEEE Xplore, and Google Scholar. The first ten pages of Google Scholar were scanned as hundreds of citations are usually found there and organized according to relevance. Additionally, other papers were retrieved from the reference lists of the selected papers, and further research pertinent to the evaluation could be identified (backward referencing). Furthermore, forward referencing was conducted to make sure relevant studies were looked at. The search period covered all papers relevant to this study from 2011 until August 2022.

2.1.2. Search Terms

Three criteria were taken into consideration while choosing the search terms for the current review: population (adolescents), intervention (social media, social networks, and media platforms), and results (depression, melancholy, and major depressive disorder). The search terms used to access each electronic database are listed in Supplementary File S1 .

2.2. Study Eligibility Criteria

Articles met the inclusion criteria if they achieved the main objective, namely studying social media use among adolescents and its possible association with depression and were published between 2011 to 2022. The inclusion and exclusion criteria are listed in Figure 1 below. This review includes peer-reviewed publications, reports, conference proceedings, theses, and dissertations, but it did not include conference abstracts, reviews, or proposals. In studies that included participants of ages more than 19, the determining factor for inclusion was the mean age. Additionally, there were no limitations on the study’s location, gender, research design, stated results, or country of publication.

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Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria.

2.3. Study Selection

A two-stage procedure was used to screen every article that was retrieved. First, duplicates were removed. Then, two reviewers read the titles and abstracts of all papers. A review tool, Rayyan [ 10 ], was used to speed up the procedure. The Cohen kappa score was used to quantify the interrater reliability between the two reviewers. Reviewer 1 included 139 articles and excluded 456 articles. Reviewer 2 included 143 articles and excluded 451 articles. Reviewer 1 and Reviewer 2 had 6 disagreements. Reviewer 1 wanted to include one paper that reviewer 2 excluded. Reviewer 2 included five articles that reviewer 1 excluded. With this information, we were able to compute the Cohen Kappa score. The Cohen Kappa score was computed to be 0.972. Both reviewers had similar views on most of the papers that needed to be included or excluded. The reviewers solved the issue of disagreement by talking to each other and arriving at a consensus. In the end, the two reviewers agreed to include 138 articles and exclude 457 articles. The inclusion of possibly pertinent items was then assessed by reading the full text of the primarily included papers.

2.4. Data Extraction

To identify and analyze results, the reviewers considered 15 categories of data to be extracted from the included papers. The reviewers built the data extraction sheet to manage the obtained information. The categories included author names, country where the study was conducted, publication year, study objective, population size, gender, age range and mean age, data scales used, and published findings. Six impartial reviewers examined the characteristics of the study based on the predetermined classification. Excel was utilized for both synthesis and analysis.

Out of the 43 included papers, reviewers were able to extract data and fill 15 categories which resulted in 645 points of extraction (43 × 15). Reviewers agreed on 610 of the extracted data with no conflict. For the remaining 35 extracted data, reviewers set up a meeting to discuss the outcomes, and were able to consensually agree on the results. Accuracy score for data extraction was 94.6%.

2.5. Data Synthesis

The gathered data were analyzed and presented using narrative synthesis. The included studies and results finding that were addressed in the literatures were compiled in a table in Supplementary File S1 .

3.1. Characteristics of the Studies Included

In this scoping review, 748 articles were obtained from five databases (Scopus = 256 articles, PubMed = 296 articles, IEEE Xplore = 61 articles, ProQuest Psychology Database = 76 articles, and Google Scholar = 56 articles,) as shown in Figure 2 . Initially, 153 duplicates were removed which resulted in 595 unique articles. The studies were retrieved from various sources, which increased the chance of duplicates. Rayyan was used to screen the articles and remove duplicates in the process. All the selected articles were published between 2012 and 2022. They were written in English and focused on social media use by adolescents and depression. In the first phase of study selection, 457 articles were removed based on the exclusion criteria (irrelevant intervention = 73, irrelevant study = 209, irrelevant outcome = 56, irrelevant population = 44, review papers = 54, AI-related = 18 articles, and non-English articles = 3). In the second phase of the study selection, full texts of the remaining 138 articles were reviewed. Finally, 40 articles were included. Two additional studies were added through forward referencing and one article was added by backward reference checking. In total, 43 articles were selected.

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PRISMA Flowchart.

3.2. Setting and Research Phase

We included 43 articles for this scoping review. These articles were published in 18 different countries; Romania (1, 2.33%) [ 11 ], Australia (3, 6.98%) [ 12 , 13 , 14 ], Belgium (1, 2.33%) [ 15 ], Canada (2, 4.66%) [ 16 , 17 ], China (5, 12.96%) [ 18 , 19 , 20 , 21 , 22 ], Finland (1, 2.33%) [ 23 ], India (1, 2.33%) [ 24 ], Iran (1, 2.33%) [ 25 ], Nigeria (2, 4.66%) [ 26 , 27 ], Norway (3, 6.98%) [ 28 , 29 , 30 ], Serbia (1, 2.33%) [ 31 ], Spain (1, 2.33%) [ 32 ], Taiwan (1, 2.33%) [ 33 ], Thailand (1, 2.33%) [ 34 ], Tunisia (1, 2.33%) [ 35 ], Turkey (3, 6.98%) [ 36 , 37 , 38 ], United Kingdom (4, 9.30%) [ 39 , 40 , 41 , 42 ], and United States (11, 25.56%) [ 43 , 44 , 45 , 46 , 47 , 48 , 49 , 50 , 51 , 52 , 53 ].

The highest number of articles was from the United States as shown in Table 1 . Most articles were published in 2021 (12, 27.27%) as shown in Figure 3 . We identified four social media platforms that were mentioned in the articles. These included Facebook (4, 9.30%) [ 35 , 41 , 45 , 53 ] Instagram (1, 2.33%) [ 15 ], multi-platform (37, 86.05%) and Qzone (1, 2.33%) [ 22 ].

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Publication by Year.

Characteristics of Studies N = 43.

The articles included various study design types as shown in Figure 4 . Around 58% of the included studies involved surveys, while 21% were cross-sectional in nature. Longitudinal studies represented 11% of the studies included, 7% relied on interviews, and 2% were descriptive design studies.

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Type of Study.

3.3. Findings

Some papers concluded an association between social media use and depressive symptoms, in addition to other symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, lack of self-esteem, social and appearance anxiety, reassurance seeking, and even internet addiction [ 3 , 13 , 14 , 15 , 16 , 18 , 19 , 20 , 21 , 22 , 23 , 24 , 26 , 28 , 29 , 32 , 35 , 36 , 37 , 38 , 39 , 40 , 41 , 43 , 46 , 47 , 50 , 51 , 52 ]. These papers reported that the number of hours spent on social media is associated with an increase in depressive symptoms and other mental health problems among adolescents. Additional factors were taken into consideration such as gender, demographics, cyberbullying, eating disorders, and other addiction problems. However, four of the reviewed articles showed no to minimal or moderate association between social media use and depression in adolescents [ 27 , 30 , 31 , 53 ] Below is Figure 5 which shows the number of reviewed papers associated with depression and self-esteem [ 14 , 22 , 25 , 39 , 40 , 47 ], cyberbullying [ 34 , 51 ], eating disorders [ 11 , 12 ], internet addiction [ 18 , 24 , 33 , 35 , 36 , 38 ], social media anxiety [ 2 , 11 , 13 , 39 , 46 , 52 ], and insomnia [ 25 , 39 , 51 ]. The percentage of the male population in the samples was less than that of the female population in 23 papers [ 13 , 14 , 15 , 16 , 20 , 21 , 23 , 27 , 30 , 31 , 32 , 35 , 37 , 38 , 41 , 43 , 46 , 47 , 48 , 49 , 51 , 52 ]. In other papers [ 11 , 12 , 19 , 25 , 40 , 50 ], the sample of participants was almost equal in number between males and females. The size of population samples in all the reviewed papers ranged between 18 and 74,472.

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Number of reviewed papers per area.

Eight articles reported that females who use social media showed higher depression symptoms than males who did [ 16 , 18 , 28 , 29 , 40 , 43 , 50 , 52 ]. Maheux et al. [ 43 ] explained in their paper that females have reported a higher overall score on the Appearance-Related Social Media Consciousness scale (ASMC), which explains why females might be more affected by social media use which, therefore, increases their depressive symptoms. It was reported that females spent 7.5 + 4.4 h on average using social media a day. However, males used social media for longer hours, yet they did not show significant depressive symptoms compared to females [ 43 ].

Demographic characteristics, family environment, and psychosocial factors, as Zhang et al. [ 18 ] showed, were associated with internet gaming addiction, social media addiction, and smartphone addiction. In addition, negative psychological factors such as anxiety and depression play a vital role in different behavioral addictions. According to this study, males have a higher tendency to gaming addiction than females, and internet addiction among adolescents is affected by family environment and demographic factors.

S. Charoenwanit [ 34 ] revealed in his paper that 39% of the interviewees, which is more than 1/3 of the sample size, were bullied on social media. Additionally, cyberbullying was associated with academic achievement, general health, and depression among adolescents with a statistical significance of 0.01 for p -value. T.D. Ray [ 47 ] reported that adolescents experiencing social comparison and cyberbullying during a developmental stage in their life resulted in depression, a lack of self-esteem, and a significant impact on their emotional wellbeing. Shafi et al. [ 49 ] highlighted in their paper that social media usage increase to be considered a consequence of depression, and potentially increases the cyberbullying score as well. Many assume that increased social media usage causes depression, but such papers suggest that it is a two-way relationship. Additionally, Ghergu et al. [ 11 ] showed that social media use might increase the chances of developing unhealthy eating attitudes, yet it can also play a protective role for those who already developed eating disorders [ 11 ].

Pirdehghan et al. [ 25 ] showed in their paper that sleep quality had a significant negative correlation with social media use statistically ( p -value = 0.02), and that males use social media more than females. Thus, males sleeping quality would be lower. Previously in some papers [ 16 , 18 , 28 , 29 , 40 , 43 , 50 , 52 ], it was shown that social media use affected females as they reported higher depressive symptoms; however, Pirdehghan et al. [ 25 ] showed that gender does not play a significant role and that the more social media use, the more depressive symptoms are expressed regardless of the gender.

The included papers used different scales and metrics to measure different aspects of mental health that were directly or indirectly associated with depression, anxiety, or both. Only a few papers used similar scales and metrics to measure mental health values. For social media use, there were two main factors to be measured: the number of hours spent on social media, and how social media was used by adolescents. Most papers used questionnaires or self-assessment tools in addition to some pre-identified.

Some papers opted for self-reporting of depression symptoms, anxiety, or other mental health problems through surveys and questioners, in addition to reporting the number of hours spent on social media [ 12 , 15 , 29 , 30 , 35 , 38 , 44 , 45 , 47 ].

The included papers used different scales to measure depression levels. Only three depression measuring scales appeared to be used in multiple papers. The Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) was used in two papers to assess the level of depression in adolescents [ 25 , 27 ]. M. Culpepper [ 46 ], Wang et al. [ 20 ], and M. Kwon et al. [ 51 ] used the Centre for Epidemiological Studies-Depression (CES-D) scale to test depression levels in adolescents. Furthermore, two studies conducted by Li et al. [ 21 ] and G. Niu et al. [ 22 ] used an altered version of the Epidemiological Studies-Depression scale to test adolescents for depression. Moreover, the Children’s Depression Inventory scale was used to measure depression among adolescents in the studies conducted by K. Kırcaburun [ 36 ] and S. R. Liu et al. [ 50 ].

Other scales were used to measure factors that could be associated with depression such as self-esteem, loneliness, sleep quality, and anxiety. Rosenberg Self-esteem Scale is one of the scales that were used by multiple studies to measure self-esteem [ 17 , 20 , 36 , 39 , 42 , 49 ], in addition to the shortened version of the scale used by D. A. Barthorpe et al. [ 40 ] and the Chinese version of the scale that was used by G. Niu et al. [ 22 ]. Two studies by S. YAŞAR CAN et al. [ 37 ] and S. R. Liu et al. [ 50 ] used UCLA Loneliness Scale to measure how disconnected adolescents were feeling and if it was associated with social media user or not. Pirdehghan et al. [ 25 ], F. F. Ibimiluyi [ 27 ], and M. Kwon et al. [ 51 ] included studies about sleep quality and social media use and that could be a possible reason for depression among adolescents. The scale used for the assessment of sleep quality was Pittsburgh Sleep Questionnaire Index (PSQI) [ 25 , 27 , 51 ]. The Generalised Anxiety Disorder Assessment scale (GAD-7) is a scale used to measure anxiety in the studies by M. Culpepper [ 46 ] and W. Zhang et al. [ 18 ]. Two studies by Shafi et al. [ 14 , 49 ] measured Salivary cortisol levels to measure anxiety and if it could possibly be associated with social media use.

For measuring social media addiction, Bergen Social Media Addiction Scale (BS-MAS) was used in two studies by W. Zhang et al. [ 18 ] and R. M. A. Shafi et al. [ 49 ]. Social Function use Intensity (SFUI) scale and Entertainment Function use Intensity (EFUI) scale were two scales that occurred to be used in two papers by A. Ghergut et al. [ 11 ] and J.-B. Li et al. [ 19 ] to measure social media use and entertainment intensity. Finally, Facebook Intensity Scale (FBI) was used to measure Facebook usage and emotional connectivity to the website alongside other aspects. The FBI scale was used in two papers by T. Hawes et al. [ 13 ] and G. Niu et al. [ 22 ].

All other scales used to measure social media use, depression, and factors that are possibly associated with depression occurred once as displayed in Table 2 . The table concludes that there were many depression evaluation scales used, but only a few scales were used by a multiple of the studies included. Self-esteem, loneliness, sleep quality, and anxiety were factors that appeared to be a concern in multiple studies.

Scales and Metrics Used.

4. Discussion

This scoping review aimed to provide an insight on increasing social media use and depression, and to see if these two variables affect each other. Depression was taken into consideration as it is evident how much its rate is increasing. According to K. Kircaburun [ 36 ], depression is one of the major health problems in modern society. In 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) conducted research that revealed that depression is affecting around 350 million worldwide [ 4 ]. It is recognized that technology is becoming more of a need than a want day by day, and that it has become the source of income for different influencers and content creators. However, the impact of this needs to be considered and managed as well. It is important to understand that there can be direct impact and indirect impact of social media usage on depression. When there is an indirect impact, it can be due to factors such as decreased physical activity because of spending many hours on social media, emotional eating due to self-esteem and body image issues resulted from social media content, lack of sleep because of prioritizing using social media over sleep quality, internet addiction, or even cyberbullying. The commonality in the scales used to measure those aspects as shown in the previous section indicated that researchers predicted a possible association between social media use, loneliness, self-esteem, sleep quality, anxiety, and depression.

In this scoping review, 43 articles were reviewed, and around 75% of these papers concluded an association between depression and increased social media use. The articles reviewed had different methodologies for testing this association; some were dependent on analyzing interview and questionnaire responses, while others measured increased cortisol levels by taking saliva samples. Two examples that tested the salivary cortisol level in the papers by Shafi et al. [ 14 , 49 ], which was measured, in addition to α -amylase levels, in adolescents after using social media to check if social media use caused anxiety. It was found that salivary cortisol and α -amylase levels were significantly higher in adolescents with depression but not in healthy control adolescents. This shows us that people with existing depression may face worse symptoms after using social media. On the contrary, social media use can have a positive effect on those who suffer from eating disorders. Ghergut et al. [ 11 ] suggested that social networking use might increase the chances of developing unhealthy eating attitudes in adolescents who are not at risk to develop an eating disorder, but, at the same time, it might play a protective role, instead of a harmful one, for adolescents who already developed such symptoms.

One factor to consider is the average age of the samples. Some papers showed a moderate to low association between social media use and depressive symptoms. [ 27 , 31 , 53 ] The mean age of the samples in those papers was 18, 18.9, and 15.22, respectively. Those mean ages are higher than the mean ages of samples from other papers that showed a higher association between social media use and depression. This indicates that older adolescents are more aware and resistant to the negative aspects of social media than younger adolescents. Older adolescents seem to deal better with social media’s negative side effects than younger adolescents considering the results shown in the three papers mentioned.

It is important to note that the countries with most studies reviewed where China, five papers [ 18 , 19 , 20 , 21 , 22 ], the United States, eleven papers [ 43 , 44 , 45 , 46 , 48 , 49 , 50 , 51 , 52 , 53 ], and Norway, three papers [ 28 , 29 , 30 ], and Australia, three papers [ 12 , 13 , 14 ], which are four developed countries. The fact that they are developed countries means that the users have mobiles that are connected to Wi-Fi potentially majority of the time, thus social media use is high as discussed by Poushter et al. [ 54 ]. This is where identifying such patterns of social media effect is needed to alleviate any potential negative outcomes.

4.1. Strengths and Limitations

This review paper presents a comprehensive examination of the latest research on the association between social media use and depression. The scoping review focuses on peer-reviewed articles from databases such as PubMed, IEEE Xplore, Scopus, Google Scholar, and ProQuest Psychology. The paper aims to gain a deeper understanding of the various factors that contribute to depression in relation to social media use, including gender, sleep quality, and self-esteem. The review also summarizes the scales used in the included articles, highlighting similarities and differences, and providing an overview of the most recent findings in the field. By synthesizing the latest research, this review paper aims to provide a valuable resource for researchers and practitioners in the field of mental health.

This scoping review included five databases which could have limited the number of articles. We focused on articles that were published in English. This could potentially mean that we missed relevant studies in other languages. Moreover, our results show that the articles came from 19 countries. The study missed other populations.

4.2. Practical and Research Implications

Practical Implications: In this paper, we looked at the possible association between social media use and depression. As such, this review can potentially aid psychologists and mental health experts in gaining insights into the depressive symptoms of adolescent patients. Psychologists and Mental health experts should monitor the relationship between social media use and depressive symptoms as technology continues to rise rapidly. Understanding the link between social media use and depressive symptoms can also lead to better recommendations from mental health experts to aid adolescents. Moreover, this review paper can also help parents assess the effects of social media use on their children.

Research Implications: The review paper looked at several metrics to quantify the amount of depression among social media users. Moreover, the review looked at the factor of gender. Future studies should consider standardizing metrics to quantify depressive symptoms associated with social media use. In our findings, most of the paper used a different scale or metric which made the analysis more tedious. Future studies can also delve deeper into the depressive effect of social media use based on gender. Several studies have demonstrated a possible correlation between social media usage, depression, and gender difference. Some paper demonstrates, for instance, that social media usage affects females more than males. However, we would recommend conducting a systematic review to determine the validity of this relationship.

5. Conclusions

This review paper was conducted to explore the link between depression and social media use among adolescents. A total of 43 articles were reviewed, and the highest number of papers came from the US. Furthermore, our analysis looked at several metrics used by researchers to measure depression and other factors that can have an association with it such as self-esteem, eating disorders, sleep, social media anxiety, internet addiction, and cyberbullying. This review suggests that there is an association between social media use and depression among adolescents. It also suggests that social media usage affects females more than males. However, a systematic review needs to be conducted to understand these associations further.

Supplementary Materials

The following supporting information can be downloaded at: https://www.mdpi.com/article/10.3390/bs13060475/s1 , File S1: Search terms and details of included studies.

Funding Statement

Open Access funding provided by the Qatar National Library.

Author Contributions

L.A. developed the protocol and conducted the search with guidance from and under the supervision of M.H. Study selection and data extraction were carried out G.N. and A.L., R.A.A. and B.A. conducted data synthesis and wrote results and methods sections. B.B. wrote the introduction section. L.A., A.L. and G.N. wrote the discussion section. M.A. reviewed the article. The article was revise critically for important intellectual content by all authors. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.

Institutional Review Board Statement

Not applicable.

Informed Consent Statement

Data availability statement, conflicts of interest.

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Disclaimer/Publisher’s Note: The statements, opinions and data contained in all publications are solely those of the individual author(s) and contributor(s) and not of MDPI and/or the editor(s). MDPI and/or the editor(s) disclaim responsibility for any injury to people or property resulting from any ideas, methods, instructions or products referred to in the content.

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