Applied Psychology

Can Social Media Lead to Depression?

Feb 16, 2022 | By Saranne Durham
Can Social Media Lead to Depression? - SACAP
Mobile Curve
Mobile Curve

The use of social media is widespread across multiple generations, varied demographics and income groups. Social media platforms are largely borderless, operating unchecked in many countries. They create the advantage of enabling better, cheaper and easier communication between friends, families and businesses. Despite the opportunities and advantages, it creates, we do need to be aware of its potential flip side and harm. As such many have been and continue to ask what the far-reaching impact of social media is on our wellbeing. One of the many questions psychologists and researchers are asking is, is there a link between social media and depression?

How wide spread is Social Media use?

According to research, worldwide there are approximately 4.2 billion active social media users. Facebook, established in 2004, has a constantly growing user base. With its 2.7 billion active Facebook users, it also continues to be the most widely used social media platform world-wide. As such, 30% of the world’s population actively use Facebook. YouTube is another popular platform and reports a combined daily video viewing of 1 billion hours by users.

Since 2012, there has been a steady increase of screentime which has accelerated dramatically with the advent of smart phones. Studies show that in 2017 the daily average use of internet, social media, gaming and texting amongst those in the 17-18 years age range was 6 hours. By 2018, 45% of this group reported that they are almost continuously online.

The use of social media platforms is not confined to personal use. Businesses and politicians use it for their own purposes. Their aims vary. Some are more obvious like market research, product placement and promotion. While others seek to reach supporters, manipulate current events or even incite and perpetuate violence. Thus, social media in itself is not necessarily good or bad. However, given that not everyone’s intentions are equal, how and why it’s used and by whom, can matter immensely.

With this in mind, how does social media impact our personal wellbeing?

How much time does Social Media take?

In 2012, Statista’s research showed that people spent about 1.5 hours per day using social media. Currently, the average person spends more than 6.5 hours online, of which approximately 2.4 hours per day is for using social media. However, this number varies dramatically between countries and within age groups. For example, the Japanese use social media for about 45 minutes a day, whereas those in the Philippines average 4 hours per day. In the USA, reports show that the baby boomer generation spends about 5 hours on their phone per day. In contrast, half of generation Z spend up to 10 hours per day on theirs.

There are only 24 hours in a day. So, what do we steal time away from to feed our online activities? There are two areas of our lives that our online activities usually downsize. These are in-person social interactions and sleep.

Social Media and Wellbeing

Wellbeing is defined as how someone perceives their comfort, happiness and health. Simply put, it is the judging of your life’s positivity and how good you feel about your life. One of the biggest causes of discontentment is linked to comparisons as well as a decline in real-life interaction.

The World Happiness Reports have repeatedly highlighted that social media has a damaging impact on happiness and thereby wellbeing. These reports found that the increased use of internet hours from 2006 onwards correlates with a steady decrease in reported happiness. This is especially widespread amongst adolescents.

There is a positive association between the amount of direct social contact one has and feelings of contentment. While it seems that we are more connected, the reality is that instant connection and virtual communication don’t equate to in-person time. Instead, they lead to less meaningful connections and increased isolation as well as avoidance behaviours. All of which are mentally and physically unhealthy.

Online social networks create an environment where irrational comparisons are unavoidable. Thus, one measures one’s own life against what appears to be the infinitely more exciting lives of one’s peers. Which inevitably results in feelings of inadequacy, envy, loneliness and even anger.

“One of the biggest happiness influences are the comparisons we make between ourselves and others.”

5 Ways Social Media can Harm You

1. Sleep Deprivation

Sleep is one of the areas we decrease in when we increase our online activities. Additionally, blue light emitted from screens supresses melatonin release and adjusts our circadian rhythms. Thereby, decreasing the quality of our sleep we do get. This resulting sleep deprivation is associated with mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.

2. Downward Mood Spirals

Frequency of browsing has shown a correlation with feelings of inadequacy. A study at the University of Michigan found that the more you use Facebook the lower your mood drops. The result is that as you interact with more people online the negative impact on your happiness is noticeable, leading you to become less satisfied, lonelier and sadder.

3. Increased Suicide Risk

A Bigham Young University study showed a link between the increased use of social media overtime by teen girls to a higher clinical risk of suicide as emerging adults. Additionally, cyberbullying is a continually growing social media reality. Research has found that, even in the absence of psychiatric disorders, cyberbullying results in increased suicidal behaviour amongst victims.

4. Addiction

Social media platforms activate our brain’s reward centre. They do this by causing a release of dopamine, a hormone linked to pleasurable activities. This can be as a result of positive feedback on something we’ve posted or knowing we haven’t missed out on breaking news. Which can create an addiction that can only be satisfied through engaging in online activities.

5. Relationship Damage

No one likes to be ignored or side-lined, which is what you are doing to others around you when you phub (phone + snubbing). It results in feelings of anger, dissatisfaction and frustration. Additionally, constant distraction by a phone decreases the quality of real-life communication. As a result, an increase in miscommunication is often the consequence, which harms our relationships at work, with family and friends.

“Social Media has been shown to have links with anxiety, depression, suicidal behaviours and body image issues.”

3 Steps to Healthier Social Media Engagement

  • Adopt a digital wellness approach.
  • Schedule time for social media engagement and actively plan direct social contact and real-world experiences.
  • Instead of browsing suggested links and following random recommendations, choose what you look at and who you interact with.

Social media is part of all of our futures. This means that there is a continual need for research into how it shapes our well-being. And guidance in how we should engage on social media platforms to advantage and not harm ourselves. Consider studying psychology if you have an interest in working in the social media sphere. This will give you the opportunity to research the impact of social media, assist others to manage their digital wellbeing and counsel those who experience cyberbullying. SACAP is a leading institution in the training of students in Applied Psychology and Counselling. Enrol online today.

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