Can Social Media Really Cause Depression?

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The platforms have been abuzz recently with stories about social media causing depression and anxiety. Could this be possible, and, if so, could it be bad for your health?

Is this a doomsday story being played out there, scare-mongering your child, or even yourself, into giving up social media? While social media can and does produce addiction in many people, and if being apart from your cellphone or tablet (and the closest wi-fi) brings separation anxiety, so be it.

It could also cause mild depression and a feeling of missing out, but these are not long-lasting effects, a large study conducted in Canada found.

Two study groups

The study results, published in Clinical Psychological Science, focused on two groups over a period of two years. One group was made up of 594 adolescents in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades in Ontario, Canada, and the other group was comprised of 1 132 undergraduate students.

The older group was surveyed for six years, starting in their first year of university. The questions revolved around the total time that was spent on social media on weekdays and weekends, and what time was allocated to other pursuits such as looking at television, putting in some exercise and academic studies.

Both groups were considered for depressive symptoms using scales appropriate for each group. The researchers then assessed the data, which was divided into age and sex.

They found that social media did not lead to depressive symptoms later. This was the finding for both groups.

Later social media use

In the adolescent group, the researchers found that females were triggered for later social media use following unrelated depression or anxiety.

The research found that this sub-set “who are feeling down may turn to social media to try and make themselves feel better.”

Study author Taylor Heffer says: When parents read media headlines such as ‘Facebook Depression,’ there is an inherent assumption that social media use leads to depression. Policymakers also have recently been debating ways to tackle the effects of social media use on mental health.”

A lot depends on the type of personality that is using – or abusing – social media. The study notes that some young people could use it negatively for abusive behavior such as bullying or stalking, while others would use it merely to stay in contact with friends and family, or for academic research.

Further work needed

The study concludes that further work needs to be undertaken involving authorities, medical experts and parents in determining what could be done to steer users away from using social media negatively.

Social media platforms such as Facebook can and has, indeed, played a role with depression and loneliness. Lifestyles today are frenetic and isolationist, encouraged by the various social media platforms that make people isolationist.

Noticed how much time your youngsters spend on Facebook and playing games? A lot, you say, exasperated. Noticed how much time they spend texting or on Instagram? Too much, you say.

It’s the new normal. Not a lot you can do to change that.