Can social media really cause depression?

Back to list 2019-06-20 16:00:00

Is using Facebook or Instagram causing depression?

Everyday new studies reveal the negative impact of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and many others on people mental health. According to several studies, young adults with the highest rate of depression were the ones spending the most time on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

The problem is not going to slow down: social media platforms are rapidly settling themselves into all aspects of our lives.

It’s generally complicated to state if Instagram and Facebook are whether or not the reason why they are suffering from depression. Maybe those who are suffering from depression and loneliness are more likely to use social media as a way of reaching out. However, a recent study clearly showed a causal link.

Does it really cause depression?

The negative impact of using social media on people’s mental health, especially depression and loneliness has been indeed linked in a recent study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.

What researchers found is that “if you use less social media, you are actually less depressed and less lonely, meaning that the decreased social media use is what causes that qualitative shift in your well-being” said Jordyn Young, co-author of the study.

The study was based on 143 students split in 2 groups. First group had to keep up with their normal social media use and the second group had to limit their access to social media. To compare participants, researchers spotted different points of well-being: social support, fear of missing out (FOMO), loneliness, anxiety, depression, self-esteem, autonomy and self-acceptance.

At the end of the study, results were pretty clear: the second group, with a limited online access, had better mental health outcomes.


Beginning of 2007, smartphone were launched. 10 years later an impressive 92% of teens and young adults owned a smartphone. In the meantime, the author of the study, a psychologist from San Diego State University observed an increase in depressive symptoms correlates with smartphone adoption.

Results showed an increase of 33% in depressive symptoms between 2010 and 2015 of over half a million teenagers.

Today’s generation of teenagers and young adults spend much less time connecting in real life with their peers but more time online, mostly through social media platforms. Unfortunately, the connections they are creating electronically are less deep and emotionally unsatisfying, making them feeling socially isolated.

The opinion of Alexandra Hamlet, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute is that “the less you are connected with human beings in a deep, empathic way, the less you’re really getting the benefits of a social interaction.”

But there’s an exception to this correlation: girls who are high users of social media but in the meantime keep up a high level of real social interaction don’t show any increase in depressive symptoms compared to those who interact less in person.

Social media can sometimes be live saving: some teenagers and young adults can be socially awkward, not successful in connecting with others offline. Some others are geographically isolated or don’t feel accepted. For them, online interaction is then vital.


Beside depression, those apps are also associated with anxiety, lower self-esteem, poorer sleep quality, inattention and hyperactivity.

The increase of depression especially among teenage girls is often explained with a loss of self-esteem. Every day they are comparing themselves to hundreds of perfect Photoshopped images from friends, influencers or celebrities - Skinnier, prettier, richer or more popular.

These posts don’t reflect the reality but become normal making them feeling less self-confident. Instagram is especially pointed out in this study, it is the platform where teenagers and young people reported the most feeling of anxiety and depression.

Each time you check your social media feeds, there’s a social comparison occurring. This can happen hundreds of time each day depending on your consumption.


Another negative impact on our mental health related to the use of social media is FOMO or the “Fear Of Missing Out”. According to Amy Summerville, PhD, professor of Psychology “The FOMO experience specifically is this feeling that I personally could have been there and I wasn’t. I do think that part of the reason that’s really powerful is this cue that maybe we’re not being included by people we have important social relationships with.”

Social media is now for people a crystal ball where they can see what their friends are doing at almost any time of day. And that’s probably not a good thing.

So, should we all just be using less social media?


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