Under the Hood

Bad Social Media Experiences Increase Depression Odds

In young adults, negative social media experiences may be strongly and consistently associated with higher depressive symptoms. But, positive experiences seem to have a weak link to lower depressive symptoms, according to research led by the University of Pittsburgh.

The study titled "The association between valence of social media experiences and depressive symptoms" was published in the journal Depression and Anxiety on June 6.

1,179 full-time students at the University of West Virginia were surveyed by the research team in August 2016. The students, aged 18 to 30, were asked about their social media use and experiences. A questionnaire was used to assess their depressive symptoms.

In quantified terms, every 10 percent increase in positive social media experiences was associated with a 4 percent decrease in odds of depressive symptoms. However, it could be chalked up to random chance as the finding was not considered statistically significant. This was unlike the next finding that every 10 percent increase in negative social media experiences was associated with a significant 20 percent increase in the odds of depressive symptoms.

"It is valuable to know that positive and negative experiences are very differently related to depression," said lead author Dr. Brian Primack, director of the Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health at the university. "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."

The effects are also hard to determine since they seem to vary so much from person to person. While some people reported increased levels of anxiety, jealousy, and addictive tendencies from social media use, others credit platforms as a form of entertainment and for helping them stay in touch with loved ones.

"Certainly, there are many situations in which connecting with others in this way might actually lower depressive symptoms. That just wasn't the primary finding in this particular study," Primack said.

Women had 50 percent higher odds of having depressive symptoms compared to men. Additionally, higher odds of symptoms were also linked to being non-white and only having completed "some college," as opposed to completing a degree.

"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," Primack added. Some examples he offered included the restriction of time spent on social media or unfriending internet groups or people who have a negative influence, voluntarily or involuntarily.

The public may benefit from understanding the risks of negative social media interactions, especially those with a predisposition to depression. But further research is required to understand if individuals with depressive symptomatology are inclined toward negative interactions, the study concluded.