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Are You Using Social Media Due to Depression, or Do You Get Depressed After Using Social Media?

A national study has confirmed that there is indeed a strong connection between the use of social media and the development of depression among young adults. But which is causing what? Does social media use cause depression or is depression causing an increased use of social media?

Study author Dr. Brian Primack, who is also a professor of public health and Dean of University of Arkansas’ College of Education and Health Professions, said that based on their new national study, young adults who increased time spent on social media sites are at greater risk of developing depression within a six-month period.

Dr. Primack underscored the findings as significant during this ongoing period of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nowadays, we are all using more social media technologies since the current situation bars us for connecting personally with others. According to Dr. Primack, while there is no denying that those technologies can be valuable, he encourages users to reflect on those that are truly useful and those that leave feelings of emptiness.

The New National Study Linked to An Earlier Study on Social Media Use

Back in 2018, Dr. Primack together with his colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh conducted a research about social media use involving more than 1,000 young U.S. adults between the ages of 18 to 30. Using the nine-item Patient Health Questionnaire, they measured the depression level of the participants and at the same time asked them about the amount of time they spend at social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, SnapChat and Reddit.

Their analyses took into account control factors such as gender, age, education, race, employment and income. In order to get results that reflect the greater U.S. population, Dr. Primack and his colleagues included survey weights.

One of the co-authors of the study, Jaime Sidani, who is an assistant professor of medicine at UP said that the emphasis on positive portrayals at social media sites can be difficult for young adults. Mainly because they are still at critical junctures in life where they still feel incapable of being able to measure-up with the impossible ideals to which they are exposed in social media sites.

Dr. Cesar Escobar-Viera another co-author opined that one possible reason why depression is happening is because social media is taking up a lot of their time. Dr Escobar, who is an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh said that

“Excessive time spent on social media tends to replace forming important in-person relationships, or of allowing moments of valuable reflections; or even, achieving professional or personal goals.

To confirm their findings, the University of Pittsburgh researchers suggested that social comparison would underlie these findings.

Follow Up Study at the University of Arkansas Provides Important Answers

Dr. Primack continued with the study while with The University of Arkansas and has released the findings online under the title Temporal Associations Between Social Media Use and Depression, last Dec. 10.

He admits that in their prior work, they were left wondering, which came first. depression or excessive social media use? While they know from other studies that social media use and depression go together, what they needed to find out is which came first? Much like the chicken-and-egg question

In their follwo-up study, they finally arrived at conclusive information that sheds light into the question. High levels of social media use led to increased occurrence of depression. Yet when compared to those who had initial indications of depression, their use of social media sites did not increase.

Of the 1,289 participants included in their final sample, 299 were already experiencing baseline depression; but did not show increased use of social media upon follow-up.

On the other hand, the remaining 990 individuals who had no indications of depressions based on the results of their previous responses to the Patient Health Questionnaire taken in 2018, were compared for depression via a follow-up assessment using the same questionnaire.

All measures were assessed using data from the 2018 study and 6-month follow-up. The assessment results compared participants who spent less that 120 minutes at social media sites on a daily basis with those who spent more than 300 minutes per day. The latter group or those who spent 2.8 times more at social media, shows indications of likely becoming depressed within 6 months.