A new study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health offers an opposing view to the long-held belief that the use of social media daily does not serve as a consistent or a strong risk factor for symptoms of depression among adolescents.
According to the researchers, teenagers have become increasingly active on social media, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, as they rely on platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, and others, in order to stay in communication with their friends.
Noah Kreski, lead author of the study said in a statement, "While some adults have voiced concerns over the potential mental health risks of this behavior, our research finds no compelling evidence to suggest that social media use meaningfully increases adolescents' risk of depressive symptoms."
Increased Use of Social Media
The research team analyzed survey data collected by Monitoring the Future, an ongoing study of the behaviors, 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 percent to 89 percent among girls, and from 46 percent to 75 percent 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.
Daily Use of Social Media Weakly Associated With Depression
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 behaviors and experiences of young people using social media, as well as more frequent engagement with the various platforms," Keyes noted.
(With inputs from agencies)