Frequent social media users nearly 3 times more likely to have depression: study

This Friday, Oct. 18, 2013, file photo, shows a Twitter app on an iPhone screen, in New York.
This Friday, Oct. 18, 2013, file photo, shows a Twitter app on an iPhone screen, in New York. AP Photo/Richard Drew, File

People who check social media multiple times a day are almost three times more likely suffer from depression than those who don’t, according to a new study.

A study out of the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine and funded by the National Institutes of Health found that the more time a young adult devotes to social media, the more likely they are to be depressed.

In the study, 1,787 people aged 19-32 were surveyed on their use of platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Vine. It found they checked social media an average of 31 times a day for around 61 minutes total.

People who checked the most often were 2.7 times more likely to suffer from depression than those who checked the least and people who spend the most time on the sites were 1.7 times more likely.

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READ MORE: Cyberbullying linked to risk of depression in kids, teens: research review

Lead author Lyu yu Lin said this doesn’t mean social media is causing depression.

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“It may be that people who already are depressed are turning to social media to fill a void,” she said in a news release.

But on the other hand, Lin says there may be factors on social media that cause depression, such as envy due to “highly idealized representations of peers,” a feeling of time wasted, and exposure to cyber-bullying.

“All of these things are possibilities … my guess is that it probably is some kind of combination,” senior author Dr. Brian A. Primack, who is also the director of Pitt’s Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health, told Global News.

“It’s very likely a double-edged sword, where there are a lot of potential uses for this technology but there’re also risks associated with it.”

The study shows that there’s an opportunity for social media sites to help out with the battle against depression, which the World Health Organization says is the leading cause of disability worldwide.

“I think it’s very important to say that just because we found this tendancy (a relatively strong tendancy,) … that doesn’t mean it’s going to be exactly that way for everybody,” Primack explained. “There very well may be ways that people use social media to alleviate depression, or to increase happiness.”

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In fact, some websites are already trying to leverage social media to help people with depression: Tumblr will ask the user “Everything okay?” if searching for words like depression or suicide, and link to crisis intervention websites.

“Hopefully by us quantifying this, it at least brings us more to the table so that people can be thinking about how to use this medium, and not let the medium use them,” Primack said.

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