Excessive social media use linked to depression onset 6 months later

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Many people seem to be living their best life on social media, but behind the screens, nothing could be farther from the truth. New research finds that people who constantly use social media are more likely to develop depression within six months, regardless of their personality type.

While people who spend a lot of time on social media generally display higher rates of depression, study authors say some personality types had a slightly lower risk than others. People who tend to be more agreeable had less risk of developing depression within six months. On the other hand, social media users who tend to be more neurotic had a higher risk of depression.

The team analyzed information from over 1,000 adults between the ages of 18 to 30 from a separate 2018 research study. Those participants answered questions about their social media usage, such as much time they spent on the popular apps. They also completed a personality quiz. The study grouped the respondents into five categories: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

Regardless of personality type, social media use increased the risk for future depression diagnoses. However, people who rated high in agreeableness were 49 percent less likely to become depressed than people with low agreeableness. When people with high neuroticism — being in a negative or anxious emotional state — spent over five hours on social media (300 minutes), they were twice as likely to develop depression than others.

Why does social media lead to mental health trouble?

The authors suggest one of the reasons behind depression’s link to high social media use is that you’re more likely to compare yourself to others who seem to be living their best lives. Comparison breeds resentment and low self-esteem and social media may enhance these feelings, especially if you often explore negative content.

Another explanation, and possibly one of the greatest ironies, is that social media has connected more people than ever before. Yet, it can isolate people and make them feel lonely as time spent scrolling pictures and videos takes away from social interactions in real-life. Connecting with others can also increase the risk of miscommunication or misperception that could lead to potential relationship difficulties and risk of other mental health problems.

“People have innate emotional needs for social connection and understanding,” says study author Renae Merrill, a doctoral student in the Public Policy Program at the University of Arkansas, in a statement. “For example, social media experiences can be improved by becoming more aware of our emotions and our connection with others in various life circumstances. This awareness helps improve relationship quality by simply reaching shared meaning and understanding through more effective communication and concern for others and ourselves. Despite our differences, we have the ability to create a culture of empathy and kindness.”

The study is published in the Journal of Affective Disorders Reports.

About the Author

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

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