*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on EurekAlert.
Contrary to popular wisdom, daily social media use is not a strong or consistent risk factor for depressive symptoms among adolescents, according to a new study by Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health researchers. The results are published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
“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,” says first author Noah Kreski, MPH, who conducted the research as a practicum project as a Columbia Mailman School student and currently works as a data analyst in the Department of Epidemiology. “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.”
The researchers analyzed survey data collected by Monitoring the Future, an ongoing study of the behaviors, attitudes, and values of Americans from adolescence through adulthood, representing 74,472 8th and 10th-grade students between 2009 to 2017. They assessed depressive symptoms to establish underlying depression risk, which they controlled for in their analysis to understand how daily social media use might contribute to depression.
Daily social media use among 8th and 10th-grade students increased from 61 percent to 89 percent among girls, and from 46 percent to 75 percent among boys, from 2009 to 2017. Daily social media use was not associated with depressive symptoms after accounting for the fact that adolescents who frequently use social media have worse mental health, to begin with. However, among girls who had the lowest risk for depressive symptoms, daily social media use was weakly associated with symptoms, though due to low risk, the overall prevalence of symptoms in that group was small. Among boys, daily social media use was not linked to increased depressive symptoms, and some evidence suggested that daily social media use may actually be protective against depression.