Previous research had found out that depression and anxiety rates have gone up as social media has become more popular. A new study by the University of Pittsburgh supported the claim, reporting that negative experiences on social media have more impact than positive interactions to young adults reporting depressive symptoms.
The study, published in the journal Depression and Anxiety, can help design interventions and clinical recommendations to reduce the risk of depression.
Lead author Brian Primack, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the Honors College and director of the Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health at Pitt, reported that the positive experiences on social media are not related nor linked to lower depressive symptoms. However, the negative experiences are actively and consistently associated with higher depressive symptoms.
A small study previously conducted in the United States showed that social media users from 18 to 60+ years old had negative experiences as a result of being active on social media. The participants said that they had been offended by posts, got in trouble in school/work because of the pictures/posts they’ve made online, and some even lost a potential job opportunity. Others were bothered by unintended persons who viewed their posts and unintentionally spent money online.
In the study of the University of Pittsburgh, Primack and his team surveyed 1,179 students ages 18 to 30 at the University of West Virginia about their experience in social media. Their depressive symptoms were assessed through a questionnaire.
Each 10% increase in positive experiences in social media was linked with a 4% decrease of depressive symptoms, but the results were insignificant. However, each 10% increase in negative experiences was related with a 20% increase of depressive symptoms, which were statistically significant.
Primack was not sure in the study whether the negative social media experiences caused the depressive symptoms or whether individuals who are depressed are more likely to seek out negative online interactions. Primack says that the answer is probably a combination of the two. However, more research is necessary to disentangle cause and effect.
Primack suggested that health practitioners should start educating the public about the risks of negative social media interactions. He points out that cyberbullying does not only occur among teenagers but also among adults.
Primack further suggested that healthcare professionals working with patients diagnosed with depression should recommend strategies to improve the quality of online experiences.
Although the findings in the study were not statistically significant, Primack said that increasing the positive interactions in social media plays a relevant role.