Heavy social media users 'trapped in endless cycle of depression'

Frequent users of social media are nearly three times more likely to develop depression

The more time young adults spend on social media, the more likely they are to become depressed, a study has found.

Of the 19 to 32-year-olds who took part in the research, those who checked social media most frequently throughout the week were 2.7 times more likely to develop depression than those who checked least often.

The 1,787 US participants used social media for an average 61 minutes every day, visiting accounts 30 times per week. Of them a quarter were found to have high indicators of depression.

Dr Brian Primack, the director of Pitt’s Centre for Research on Media, Technology and Health, led the study, and told The Independent: “It is important to explain that, because this was a cross-sectional study, directionality is not clear from these results. 

“One strong possibility is that people who are already having depressive symptoms start to use social media more, perhaps because they do not feel the energy or drive to engage in as many direct social relationships.”

However, he said there are several reasons why increased social media could lead to more depressive thoughts. One example he cited was a phenomenon which is sometimes referred to as “Facebook depression”.

“People who engage in a lot of social media use may feel they are not living up to the idealised portraits of life that other people tend to present in their profiles. 

“As with many things in the social sciences, it may also be that both of these directions are accurate. 

“This would be concerning, because it would imply that there is a potential vicious circle: people who become depressed may turn to social media for support, but their excessive engagement with it might only serve to exacerbate their depression.”

The study, by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, looked at the 11 most popular social media platforms at the time: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine and LinkedIn. 

There are currently over a billion people actively using Facebook daily, while Twitter attracts 320 million active users every month.

These findings are particularly disturbing as the World Health Organisation published a report in October 2015 which said depression is now the leading cause of disability worldwide.

However, Dr Primack said he could imagine scenarios in which social media could itself become a tool to combat the problem.

“We hope that this research may provide one piece to the puzzle of how we can best use powerful tools such as social media to our advantage and not our detriment. 

“We certainly do not recommend that people stop using social media. Social media is obviously an extremely important part of modern-day society and has many important functions.

“Hopefully the knowledge that there can be emotional risks associated with its use may help individuals to make better choices about the extent to which they use social media and the way in which they use it.”

“It is important to acknowledge that what we found were just overall tendencies for the entire population therefore, these findings do not suggest that every person who engages with more social media use is depressed in fact there may certainly be groups of people who find solace and lessening of their depression through social media resources and relationships,” he said.