In the United States, the results of the first national study were summed up, which examined the influence of the amount of time spent on social networks on the development of depression in young people. The results obtained should alert everyone who spends their days looking at someone else's life.
Scientists have been studying the impact of social networks on physical and mental health for years, and the data obtained is sometimes very contradictory. For example, in 2017 they assessed how “likes” on Facebook affect mental well-being. It turned out that the more active a user is online, the worse he assesses his mental well-being. Other researchers argue that social media is bad for sleep quality. Still others believe that social media can improve health by increasing social networks and strengthening social connections. At the same time, there is emerging evidence that people with more Facebook friends have lower overall health scores.
According to University of Arkansas professor Brian Primack, author of the new study, most of these studies have one weakness: they do not answer the chicken and egg question. What came first – a passion for social networks or mental health problems? Maybe it’s depression that makes you want to scroll through photos on Instagram all day long, and not the other way around? Primak and his colleagues managed to answer this question.
In 2018, researchers surveyed more than 1,000 Americans aged 18-30 about their health and the amount of time spent viewing Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram and SnapChat. When selecting participants, the study authors took into account the participants' age, gender, race, education, income and employment status to obtain results representative of the majority of Americans.
The researchers compared the rates of young people who spent less than 120 minutes on social media and those who who spend more than 300 minutes on them and found that the latter were 2.8 times more likely to develop depression within six months. According to the authors, this may be due to the fact that people, especially popular bloggers, often create a positive image of their life on social networks. Young people, especially those going through difficult times, may have the illusion that everyone around them is leading a much better and more interesting life.
“This data is especially important to consider in the era of COVID-19. Now that we have much less opportunity for real communication, people have begun to pay more attention to social networks. There's certainly some value in that, but I encourage people to think about which online technology features are truly useful to them and which ones feel empty,” said Brian Primack.