Depression and Social Media

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Depression is a growing cause of disability in the United States and its incidence is rapidly increasing [1]. It is predicted that by the year 2030, it will become the most common cause of disability in high-income countries. Depression is often reoccurring and is associated with other conditions like anxiety and substance use disorder. Depression not only affects the individual, but it also costs on average 210 billion dollars to the US economy associated medical expenses, decrease in productivity, and increase rates of suicide [1].

As technology is advancing, social media has become prime mode of human interaction. Today there are over 2 billion social media users’ worldwide [2]. Around 87% of youth aged 12-17 years use the internet, and around 51% use is daily.  Furthermore, over 60% of young adults between ages 13-17, have a minimum of one social media profile [3]. Depression is associated with a variety of psychological, biological and social factors and there is recent increased interest on social media usage and its correlation with depression [1].

A recent research study published in Anxiety and Depression, evaluated the relationship between social media (SM) use and depression in adults aged 19-32 years. It surveyed about 1,787 nationally represented adults about social media use and depression. Survey assessed various factors including self-reported time spent daily on social media, SM visits per week, and Pew Internet Research based frequency score. Depression was evaluated using Patient reported outcomes measurement information systems (PROMIS). The results were statistically analyzed using chi square and logistic regression methods. The enrolled 50.3% females and 57.5% white. The results found that participants in the highest quartile time spent daily on SM had increased odds of depression (AOR=1.66, 95% CI=1.14–2.42).  Furthermore, compared to those in low quartile of SM usage, participants with global frequency score (AOR=3.05, 95% CI=2.03–4.59) and those with the highest quartile of SM usage per week (AOR=2.74, 95% CI=1.86–4.04) had increased risk of depression [4].

Another study evaluated problematic social media use (PSMU). PSMU is defined as excessive worry about social media and being inclined to use social media and dedicating so much time to social media that it effects other social activities such as interpersonal relationships, studies/job, and/or mental health. It surveyed (N=1749) participants aged 19-32 online and assessed depressive symptoms using the Patient Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS) brief depression scale and PSMU was measured using the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale. Results showed increased PSMU was associated with a 9% increase in odds of depressive symptoms. Increase frequency of SMU was also associated with an increase in depressive symptoms, but time spent on SMU was not associated with SMU [1].

Social media presents various risk factors for vulnerable young adults. There is correlation with social media usage and body image/self-esteem in young adults. The cause and effect of this relationship is controversial, but it depends a lot on the nature of the individual. In a risk taking behavior study done by Dr. Megan Moreno, University of Wisconsin adolescent medicine specialist, it was found that nature of the person was a key factor in determining the correlation between social media use and depression. Social media sites like Facebook, encouraged a feeling of connectedness in well-adjusted people, while individuals more prone to depression felt more disconnected. Therefore, social media associated depression is also highly connected with one’s external and internal influences [5].

Although some studies have shown that social media can cause depression, increase in risky behaviors, anxiety, cyberbullying, reduced self-esteem, and negative influences on health and well being, there are also various positive effects of using social media. Social media helps youth connect with their peers regardless of their health condition or situation, and also provides a more easier and convenient way to communicate. Social media also allows introverted youth to socialize better and express their concerns. Most importantly, social media provides an anonymity that allows young adults to be equal as others, and freely express his/her opinions to others [5].

As mental health providers or parents, there is a lot we can do to increase the safety of social media for our young adults. Risks associated with social media can be minimized by better website design that provides resources when risky behaviors are noticed, identification of those at high risk and providing strategies and resources to help them better manage the risks. Also, increasing safety measures and close monitoring and reporting of any irregular behavior to the authorities when needed [5].

Influence of social media on depression still remains a controversial topic and there is insufficient research available. With the constant expansion of social media in our daily routine, researchers and clinicians further need to evaluate the influence of SM use on mental health. Understanding this can further help provide resources and help to those at high risk. Depression is one of the most common cause of disability here in the United States and proper actions must be taken to reduce its incidence and reoccurrence among the young adults.

Monitoring Editor: Rikinkumar S. Patel MD, MPH

Author: Mansi Shah MD, MBA

Author Affiliation: Zucker Hillside Hospital (Glen Oaks, NY)

Correspondence on Email:

References: are available on request

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