Full disclosure: I’m a social-media crackhead. I check my Facebook and Twitter accounts every few minutes. All day, every day. Even when I’m with my kids. It’s pretty pathetic.
I also tend to get down in the dumps, often more so when I see all the fun, cool things my online “friends” gush about on their social walls and feeds. I’m FOMO’d out to the max.
Question is: Are the two related — getting the blues and binging on social media? Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Health Sciences seem to think so.
The findings of a soon-to-be-published study they conducted in 2014 revealed that frequent social-media users are 2.7 times more likely to be depressed than people who don’t go overboard on social media throughout the week. Additionally, they found that those who spent the most time on social media throughout the day had 1.7 times the risk of depression.
The research, funded by the National Institutes of Health, will be published in the April 1 issue of the journal Depression and Anxiety. The data, collected via self-reporting questionnaires, shed light on the social-media habits of 1,787 adults, ages 19 to 32. Taken into account were 11 popular platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Pinterest, Reddit, YouTube, Tumblr, Vine and Google Plus. (You have accounts on all of those, too, right?)
On average, those polled used social media for a total of 61 minutes a day and checked a range of social-media accounts 30 times a week. (I check my Twitter account about that many times a day, sadly.)
Related: 6 Ways to Break a Tech Addiction
In the end, more than a quarter of the participants were flagged as exhibiting “high” depression indicators. Whether heavy social-media use triggered depression or simply exacerbated pre-existing depression remains unclear. Like every other social interaction online or off, it’s complicated.
“It may be that people who already are depressed are turning to social media to fill a void,” lead study author Lui yi Lin said in a statementannouncing the research.
Filling a void. On Facebook. On Twitter. Online. Sounds about right for me. How about you?
Andrea Gordon, a veteran marriage and family therapist in Long Beach, Calif., says seeking validation through social media is very common and can trigger symptoms of anxiety and depression, especially if we don’t elicit the response we seek (a like, a comment, a retweet, etc.). Or worse, no response at all.
“Not being validated on social media can easily set off feelings of depression due to how we’re cognitively set up,” Gordon told Entrepreneur. “If you have a need to put your life on display on Facebook or Twitter — with a video you thought was cute or funny or a sexy picture of yourself — and you get a negative response from your ‘friends,’ it can bring up distorted beliefs and stinky thinking. This can also happen when we compare ourselves to others online. If we already have beliefs that we’re not good enough, that we’re unlovable, those come up.”
The U. Penn. study does not mark the the first time a data-driven connection between heavy social-media use and depression has been made. A growing body of empirical evidence adds weight to the supposition that constantly comparing ourselves to our more extroverted “friends” on social media can trigger “increased depressive symptoms.”
Equally depressing: another new study implies that constantly texting and checking your Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat — pick your fav social poison — makes people “morally shallow.” Put that in your feed and smoke it. I know I’m going to.
Kim Lachance for Entrepreneur.com