Michigan Association of Health Plans

More Evidence Ties Social Media to Mental Health Problems

Adolescents who spend more than three hours a day on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or other social media are at increased risk for depression, anxiety, or other internalizing problems, new research suggests.

The study did not find an association between social media use and externalizing problems such as physical aggression and impulsivity — but there was an association with such problems comorbid with internalizing symptoms.

“Social media has a lot of benefits; for example, it offers users an opportunity to connect with other people on lots of different topics and with people from all over the world, but there appear to be associated harms,” lead author Kira E. Riehm, a PhD student in the Department of Mental Health, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, told Medscape Medical News.

“I think that trying to balance the two of those will be really important in the future,” she added.

The study was published online September 11 in JAMA Psychiatry.

Easy Access

The authors note that depression is on the rise among American teens, and rates of deaths by suicide and suicide attempts in this population have increased sharply over the past two decades.

These days, most adolescents have a smart phone, making it easy for them to access social media platforms at any time. But while some experts blame the rapid rise in social media use for increased depression rates, the authors point out that evidence for this in nationally representative samples is scarce.

To date, most studies looking at the impact of social media on mental health are cross sectional, which presents significant limitations because of the possibility for reverse causation, said Riehm.

“It might be that instead of social media leading to more mental health problems, people with mental health problems are more likely to use social media.”

Unlike previous studies, Riehm and colleagues used longitudinal data collected at multiple time points, which helped determine that the social media use came before mental health problems.

The team used a representative sample of 6595 US adolescents who participated in the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) study. Researchers gathered data from this survey in 1-year intervals, starting with wave 1 from September 12, 2013, to December 14, 2014, when study participants were aged 12 to 15 years.

In this wave, researchers collected data on demographic characteristics, body mass index, self-reported lifetime marijuana and alcohol use, and lifetime internalizing and externalizing problems. They adjusted for these potential confounders in their analyses.

This article appeared in Medscape. Read more here.