Social media has become an inseparable part of every individual’s life. So much so that to expect a person to spend even a few minutes without being active on any of the social media platform is unimaginable. Apparently, similar to an addiction to drugs like cocaine or marijuana, even social media addiction is habit-forming, which can get worse over time.
A new study by the researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health (CRMTH) suggests that individuals who are active on a variety of social media platforms are more likely to develop depression and anxiety, as compared to those who spend more time on social media but use lesser number of platforms.
Individuals using 7-11 social media platforms had 3.1 times chances of developing depression
Scheduled to be published online in the April issue of the journal “Computers in Human Behavior,” the study revealed that people who used the maximum number of social media platforms were more likely to develop depression and anxiety, as compared to those who used fewer platforms, regardless of the total time spent on the overall social media.
“This association is strong enough that clinicians could consider asking their patients with depression and anxiety about multiple platform use and counseling them that this use may be related to their symptoms,” said the lead author and physician Brian A. Primack, M.D., Ph.D., director of CRMTH, and assistant vice chancellor for health and society in Pitt’s Schools of the Health Sciences.
As part of the study, Primack and his colleagues enrolled 1,787 U.S. adults in the age group of 19 through 32 to assess their social media use, in 2014, based on an established depression assessment tool and questionnaires. Each participant was questioned about the 11 most popular social media platforms of that time, including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine and LinkedIn.
It was found that individuals who used 7 to 11 platforms had 3.1 times chances of developing higher levels of depressive symptoms as compared to their counterparts who used just zero to two platforms. Moreover, people who used the maximum number of platforms were 3.3 times likely to develop high levels of anxiety symptoms as compared to those who used the least number of platforms. During the course of the study, other factors that usually contribute to depression and anxiety, such as race, gender, relationship status, household income, education and total time spent on social media, were kept under control.
However, the study could not clearly indicate the directionality of the association between the social media usage and the onset of the mental health condition. People who experience symptoms of depression or anxiety are more prone to use various social media platforms as an outlet for their emotional upheavals, while many others who try to maintain a presence on multiple platforms, ultimately, fall prey to depression and anxiety. However, further research is needed to understand the exact correlation between the two.
Why does social media usage trigger depression and anxiety?
A number of theories have been proposed by researchers to prove that multi-platform social media use may aggravate depression and anxiety. Some of the theories put forward by Primack and his team are:
Multitasking that occurs when switching between platforms leads to poor cognitive and mental health outcomes. Each platform has a distinct set of rules, and cultural assumptions, which can be difficult to navigate, ultimately leading to negative mood and emotions. An increased risk of committing mistakes when using multiple platforms may, in turn, increase the risk of repeated embarrassments.
Seeking professional help
Apart from reducing the symptoms of anxiety and depression, curbing the use of social media can actually help people save time.