Daily social media use is neither a strong nor consistent risk factor for depressive symptoms in adolescents in the United States, according to a new study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
The findings refute popular wisdom, researchers noted, and may be a relief to adults concerned with teens’ heavy use of social media during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Increasingly, teenagers are active on social media, particularly during the pandemic, as they have to rely on Instagram, TikTok, and other platforms to stay in touch with friends,” said first author Noah Kreski, MPH, of the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, New York, New York. “While some adults have voiced concerns over the potential mental health risks of this behavior, our research finds no compelling evidence to suggest that social media use meaningfully increases adolescents’ risk of depressive symptoms.”
Kreski and colleagues assessed the relationship between daily social media use and depressive symptoms in 74,472 eighth-grade and tenth-grade students in the United States between 2009 and 2017. Researchers assessed depressive symptoms in participants to establish underlying depression risk and control for it in their analysis.
Between 2009 and 2017, daily social media use among US students increased from 61% to 89% among girls and from 46% to 75% among boys, according to the study.
After accounting for the fact that adolescents with frequent social media use have worse mental health to start with, researchers found that daily social media use was not associated with depressive symptoms.
In girls with the lowest risk for depressive symptoms, the study found a weak association with daily social media use and depressive symptoms. However, due to the group’s low risk, the overall prevalence of depressive symptoms among the girls was small.
In boys, researchers reported, some evidence suggested that daily use of social media may protect against depression.
“Daily social media use does not capture the diverse ways in which adolescents use social media, which may be both positive and negative depending on the social context,” said study senior author Katherine Keyes, PhD, an associate professor at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health. “Future research could explore the specific behaviors and experiences of young people using social media, as well as more frequent engagement with the various platforms.”