Pretty much since its inception—or, at the very least, when it started to become a mainstream activity—many have shared concern over what social media does to mental well-being. More specifically, critics (and suspicious users alike) have long posited that there is a direct link between social media use and poor mental well-being.
It is important, before we continue, to distinguish between mental health and mental well-being. While they are related, “mental health” refers to a person’s overall (chronic) mental state. “Mental well-being,” on the hand, refers more to a person’s day-to-day (acute) mental state. For example, “feeling depressed” is a state of poor mental well-being, but “having Depression” is a state of poor mental health.
That said, let’s also recognize that depression is a mental illness that has many triggers and can present in a variety of ways. More importantly, it is not always easy to identify depression: there are different kinds and people manifest the experience in different ways. Depression can be the result of seasonal changes (lack of Vitamin D, for one), a sedentary lifestyle, poor diet, vitamin deficiency, traumatic experience, romantic or professional rejection, etc.
However, researchers out of the University of Pennsylvania attempted to find a correlation between social media and depression. The team looked at how 143 people between the ages of 18 and 22 used Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. The study asked each participant to complete a survey on their mood and overall well-being, before assessing social media use. In addition, the study asked each participant to provide a screenshot of their iPhone battery usage so as to determine how many hours each person spent within each of the three popular social media apps.
From there, the study divided the participants into two different groups. The first group was, of course, a control. In this group, participants did not alter their social media usage at all. The second group—the test group, of course—was asked to limit their social media time to only 10 minutes per day on each app (again, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat). The two groups were then monitored for three weeks, with a mood survey completed at the end of each week.
Well-being was broken down into seven categories: social support (offline social network), fear of missing out (FOMO), anxiety, depression, self-esteem, loneliness, and autonomy/self-acceptance.
Published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, the study found a definite link between social media usage and depression and loneliness. Effectively, the study suggests that depressed people could find reprieve by reducing their social media engagement.