By 105 student
In today’s ever expanding technological world, Facebook and other social media have revolutionized the ways in which we associate with our peers. As of 2014, more than 1 billion people have subscribed to the globally integrated Facebook network, transforming interpersonal communication and relationships to computer-mediated interactions (). As this growing phenomenon takes an increasingly greater precedence in our lives, we are beginning to assess what impact, if any, Facebook and other social media usage has on our mental health. Recent studies suggest a possible link to depression and reduced subjective wellbeing, although the causation between usage and depressive symptoms is not clear.
Depression is one of the most common mental disorders, affecting approximately one in ten Americans. Those who suffer from depression are at higher risks for chronic conditions including arthritis, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity. Depression is also known to cause short-term disability and decreased productivity. While television viewing has been linked to depression in the last decade, a similar relationship is being explored with social media sites (Teychenne, Ball & Salmon, 2010).
A group of social psychologists (Pantic et al., 2011) at the University of Belgrade, Serbia, discovered some of the first pieces of evidence that support a detrimental effect of social networking on mental health. They measured the relationship between social networking and depression indicators in 160 Serbian high school students using an anonymous 21-question multiple choice self-report depression survey of average daily time spent on social networking sites. Following completion of the test, a ‘depression score’ was calculated according to the severity of the responses. These researchers found a strong positive correlation between time spent on social networking and depression survey scores—higher scores were congruous with increased time spent on social networking.
By contrast, Pantic et al.’s study did not measure these so-called depression indicators directly following a period of social media usage. From this study alone, we cannot accurately infer cause and effect relationship between these two target variables. Researchers at the University of Michigan used a more suggestive time sampling method, however, and had similar findings. Kross et al. (2013) measured the subjective well being of 82 Ann Arbor, Michigan residents in response to Facebook usage over a two-week period, sending them text messages 5 times per day for two weeks, questioning overall wellbeing, worry, loneliness, Facebook usage and frequency of direct human interaction since the previous interaction. They found that the more time subjects spent on Facebook at one time point, the worse they felt the next time they were messaged. The results of this study are particularly compelling, controlling for potential ‘backwards’ correlation. They point exclusively to the effects of Facebook on depression, not vice versa.
Other studies do not rule out an effect in the opposite direction. The cause may be reversed—depressed patients show more Facebook usage after clinical diagnosis. In a study conducted by de Wit, van Straten, Lamers, Cuijpers and Penninx (2010), subjects previously diagnosed with a major depressive order were found to spend significantly more leisure time using the computer. Furthermore, the prevailing correlation highlighted by both Pantic et al. (2011) and Kross et al. (2013) could be influenced by confounding variables such as age, sex, television viewing and time slept. (more…)