Social media use may not cause depression

Social media is linked to depression but may not be causing it - Newsreel
A new study shows social media and depression are linked but other factors are also at play. | Photo: GoodLifeStudio (iStock)

Young people with signs of depression tend to spend a lot of time on social media.

But new research suggestions the online activity may not be the causing the depression.

Researchers at the John Hopkins Children’s Center studied 376 young adults in Canada over a seven-month period.

They matched their self-reported depressive systems against social media use, greenspace exposure, physical activity and cannabis use.

“Findings showed that participants who had higher social media use tended to be more depressed, and people who were more depressed also tended to use social media more,” the study report published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction said.

“However, researchers found that social media use did not cause an increase or decrease in depressive symptom levels over time.”

Study lead Carol Vidal said research had previously shown that when social media use was high in young people, so was depression.

“But the question is — is that because social media caused that person to be depressed? Or is it because people who are depressed tend to also use social media more, and spend less time exercising and being in green spaces?” she said.

“We found that if you tended to be a person who was depressed, you were a person also spending more time on social media.”

The study also found that higher levels of social media use and higher levels of depressive symptoms were associated with lower levels of green space exposure.

Cannabis use and staying up late were also associated with higher depressive levels.

“Being indoors and not exercising, staying up late and using cannabis has its risks,” Dr Vidal said.

“It is important for providers to educate patients and for parents to instil healthy habits in their kids — having a balance of moderate social media use and other outdoor activities and exercise is what people should strive for in today’s digital age.”

More details can be found on the John Hopkins Children’s Center website.