Social media use tied to worse depression symptoms in adults

Via Peters

November 30, 2021

1 min read

Perlis reports receiving consulting fees from Belle Artificial Intelligence, Burrage Capital, Genomind, RID Ventures and Takeda, as well as holding equity in Psy Therapeutics. Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.

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Social media use may increase depressive symptoms among adults, according to results of a survey study published in JAMA Network Open.

“The relationship between social media and mental health has been the subject of a lot of debate,” Roy H. Perlis, MD, MSc, associate chief for research in the department of psychiatry and director of the Center for Quantitative Health at Massachusetts General Hospital, told Healio Psychiatry. “On the one hand, social media has been a way for people to stay connected to a larger community, and perhaps get information about things that interest them. On the other hand, even before the risks of widespread misinformation on these platforms were recognized, there was a sense that kids and adolescents might be negatively impacted by social media.”

Perlis and colleagues sought to outline the relationship between adults’ self-reported use of individual social media and depressive symptom worsening. They analyzed data of 5,395 individuals with a nine-item Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) score below five on an initial survey who completed a second PHQ-9HQ-9 (mean age, 55.8 years; 65.7% women). They collected data via 13 waves of a nonprobability internet survey conducted around once per month between May 2020 and May 2021. A five point or greater increase in PHQ-9 score served as the outcome and participant sociodemographic features, baseline PHQ-9 and use of each social media platform served as independent variables.

Results showed 482 (8.9%) participants had a five points or greater worsening of PHQ-9 score upon second survey. Fully adjusted models for increase in symptoms showed the largest adjusted ORs were linked to social media use for Snapchat (aOR = 1.53; 95% CI, 1.19-1.96), Facebook (aOR = 1.42; 95% CI, 1.1-1.81) and TikTok (aOR = 1.39; 95% CI, 1.03-1.87).

“We need to understand if more social media use causes depression or if it is just a marker of risk for depression,” Perlis said. “Either explanation has implications for public health, given how negatively depression impacts public health. Whether social media use is causing depression, or is just a marker of risk, we can develop interventions aimed at preventing depression in people who are using more social media.”

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