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Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter – all of these social media sites share a key factor in common: they constantly expose us to perfected images of others’ lives. While common sense tells us that constant comparison to idealized versions of others can lead to lower self-esteem, a new study reveals just how detrimental social media may be for our mental health.
According to a new study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences, the more time young adults spend on social media websites, the higher their risk of suffering from depression. The study, which is the first nationally representative study of its kind, analyzed connections between depression in young adults and their use of various social media websites (including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, and Vine). Sampling 1,787 U.S. adults between 19 to 32 years old, the University of Pittsburgh research team assessed levels of social media use and indicators of depression.
Scientists found that participants used social media websites for around 61 minutes per day on average and more than a quarter of the participants exhibited “high” indicators of depression. Researchers found a linear relationship between the time spent on social media and the risk for depression. Among research subjects, those who visited social media sites the most frequently were 2.7 times as likely to suffer from depression than those who visited the sites the least. Researchers compared the risk for depression between groups in the same demographic, such as sex, race, age, ethnicity, relationship status, education level, and household income, and found the same result: an increased risk of depression with increased social media usage.
However, the study does not establish social media usage as the cause of depression. The two could coexist or even fuel each other, as Lui Yi Lin, a member of the research team, concluded. “It may be that people who are already depressed are turning to social media to fill a void,” stated Lin in a press release for Science Daily.
Overall, the study serves as a cautionary lesson for frequent social media users: perhaps less is more when it comes to sharing and comparing our lives online.