Negative experiences on social media are strongly associated with higher depressive symptoms among young adults, according to a study. The finding, published in the journal Depression and Anxiety, may be useful for designing interventions and clinical recommendations to reduce the risk of depression.
“We found that positive experiences on social media were not related or only very slightly linked to lower depressive symptoms. However, negative experiences were strongly and consistently associated with higher depressive symptoms,” said Brian Primack from the University of Pittsburgh in the US. “Our findings may encourage people to pay closer attention to their online exchanges. Moving forward, these results could assist scientists in developing ways to intervene and counter the negative effects while strengthening the positive ones,” said Primack.
Researchers surveyed 1,179 full-time students aged 18 to 30 at the University of West Virginia in the US about their social media use and experiences. The participants also completed a questionnaire to assess their depressive symptoms.
Each 10 per cent increase in positive experiences on social media was associated with a 4 per cent decrease in odds of depressive symptoms, but those results were not statistically significant, meaning that the finding could be due to random chance. However, each 10 per cent increase in negative experiences was associated with a 20 per cent increase in the odds of depressive symptoms, a statistically significant finding. “It is valuable to know that positive and negative experiences are very differently related to depression,” said Primack.
“But we don’t know from our study whether the negative social media interactions actually caused the depressive symptoms or whether depressed individuals are more likely to seek out negative online interactions,” he said. Other characteristics also were linked to the participants having depressive symptoms. For example, compared with men, women had 50 per cent higher odds of having depressive symptoms, researchers said. Identifying as non-white and having only completed “some college,” rather than completing a degree, also were associated with higher odds of depressive symptoms, they said.