Do Links Between Social Media, Depression, and Addiction Exist?

(Photo: Freestocks, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Freestocks, Creative Commons)

New research suggests that not only is the use of social media linked to depression, but that the connection may be in part explained by addiction to social media rather than just the act of using it.

“We believe that at least having clinicians be aware of these associations may be valuable to them as they treat patients with depressive disorders. For example, they may wish to inquire about social media use patterns and determine if those patterns are maladaptive,” coauthor Ariel Shensa of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine told Reuters Health by email.

Conducted in 2014, the study used 1,763 participants between the ages of 19 and 32, all of whom were randomly selected by researchers.  Questions were asked pertaining to depressive symptoms, social media use and addictive behaviors, reports Ryan Petrovich for WDTV.

A person’s level of social media use was measured by the number of visits and amount of time spent on a total of 11 popular social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Vine, Snapchat, and Reddit.

In order to determine addiction to social media, the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale was modified in order to take into consideration addictive behaviors such as mood modification, withdrawal, and relapse.

During a presentation at the annual meeting of the Society of Behavioral Medicine in Washington, DC held on March 30, researchers noted that 50% of participants spent at least an hour per day using social media for personal use.  All together, an average of 30 visits to social media sites were made on a weekly basis.

A range of 14 to 44% of participants had scores that suggested an issue exists, depending on whether broad or narrow criteria was used to determine addiction.

While those with high social media use were also found to hold higher addiction scores, once addiction scores were taken into consideration a link was not found between social media use and depression.

However, there was a connection found between addiction and depression, as researchers stated that addiction could explain close to three-fourths of the effect of social media use on depression.

“Ultimately, it appears that the way social media is used, rather than the amount social media is used, leads to maladaptive outcomes,” says Lindsay Howard of the Virginia Consortium Program in Clinical Psychology in Norfolk, who was not involved in the study.

Howard added that the current research holds similarities to her own research, which was presented at the same conference.  Her findings suggest that looking for reassurance through social media could be related to a higher probability of being unhappy with one’s body as well as having eating disorders.  She went on to say that how much social media was used was not related to the symptoms of depression.

She suggested that physicians educate their patients on social media use and how it is connected to depression and other negative outcomes.  In addition, she said the app “Freedom” could help as it offers users the ability to place limits on how often social media is used as well as when.