Social media use may not raise depression risk in teens

New York:  Contrary to popular wisdom, daily social media use is not a strong or consistent risk factor for depressive symptoms among adolescents, researchers say.

According to the study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, teenagers are increasingly active on social media, particularly during the pandemic, as they have to rely on Instagram, Facebook, and other platforms to stay in touch with friends.

“While some adults have voiced concerns over the potential mental health risks of this behaviour, our research finds no compelling evidence to suggest that social media use meaningfully increases adolescents’ risk of depressive symptoms,” said study lead author Noah Kreski from Columbia University in the US.

The research team analysed survey data collected by Monitoring the Future, an ongoing study of the behaviours, attitudes, and values of Americans from adolescence through adulthood, representing 74,472 eighth and 10th-grade students between 2009 to 2017.

They assessed depressive symptoms to establish underlying depression risk, which they controlled for in their analysis to understand how daily social media use might contribute to depression.

The findings showed that daily social media use among eighth and 10th-grade students increased from 61 per cent to 89 per cent among girls, and from 46 per cent to 75 per cent among boys, from 2009 to 2017.

Daily social media use was not associated with depressive symptoms after accounting for the fact that adolescents who frequently use social media have worse mental health.

However, among girls who had the lowest risk for depressive symptoms, daily social media use was weakly associated with symptoms, though due to low risk, the overall prevalence of symptoms in that group was small.

Among boys, daily social media use was not linked to increased depressive symptoms, and some evidence suggested that daily social media use may actually be protective against depression.

“Daily social media use does not capture the diverse ways in which adolescents use social media, which may be both positive and negative depending on the social context,” said study senior author Katherine Keyes.

“Future research could explore the specific behaviours and experiences of young people using social media, as well as more frequent engagement with the various platforms,” Keyes noted.


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