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Social Media and Depression: Is There a Connection?

Are the luxuries of modern life negatively impacting our mental health? Science suggests so. The American Psychological Association released their annual “Stress in America” report back in February 2017, and the association dedicates an entire section to “Technology and Social Media.”1 In this section, the concept of the “constant checker” is discussed: 45 percent of Americans report being constantly connected to phones or computers on a typical workday, and this number only drops to 34 percent on weekends. Forty-two percent
of these constant checkers report worrying about the effect that social media has on their physical and mental health. Several studies suggest that these constant checkers are right to worry—one study concluded that the use of multiple social media platforms is more strongly associated with depression and anxiety among young adults.
The relationship needs to be further clarified, experts say, who are unsure whether use of social media platforms causes depression or if those with a propensity for depression are simply more likely to use more social media outlets.2

A separate study, however, established a more causal role for social media use, reporting that individuals who spent more time on Facebook exhibited more depressive symptoms.3 Why does this happen, exactly? Authors of this study offer at least one explanation, which they call the “highlight reel” effect. Facebook and other social media sites are recognized by many as a place to display your best achievement and most exciting life events; users are more likely to post about getting married, having a baby, or career advancements than mundane events that happen regularly all day long, like eating breakfast on a Tuesday before work. The researchers explain that this “highlight reel” effect of Facebook causes some users to constantly compare themselves to their peers. From these constant comparisons, feelings of inadequacy and lowered self-esteem occur, causing those vulnerable to depression to suffer.

  1. American Psychological Association. Stress in America: Coping with Change. Feburary 2017. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2017/technology-social-media.PDF. Accessed Dec 12 2017.
  2. Primack BA. Use of multiple social media platforms and symptoms of depression and anxiety: A nationally-representative study among U.S. young adults. Computers in Human Behavior. 2017; 69:1–9.
  3. Mai LN, et al. Seeing Everyone Else’s Highlight Reels: How Facebook Usage is Linked to Depressive Symptoms. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. 2014; 33(8):701–731.

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