In the study, researchers from universities in Oregon, Alabama, and Arkansas, found “strong and linear associations” between high social-media use and depression, something that experts have long hypothesised.
The most striking finding, however, might be that social-media use was “strongly associated with the development of depression” even for people that might appear to be “positive” from the outside.
Among other personality traits, researchers measured how likely “agreeable” people were to develop depression from social-media use. Agreeable people are considered to be warm, empathetic, and kind from a psychological standpoint.
The study found that highly agreeable people were almost half as likely to become depressed than less agreeable ones. While that’s a substantial difference, it still shows that developing depression from social-media use can affect anyone.
Predictably, highly neurotic people, or those who, from a psychological standpoint, don’t cope well with stress and tend to complain more, were twice as likely to become depressed than less neurotic people when using more than five hours of social media per day.
While that might seem like a lot, a USwitch survey last month found that UK adults spend up to six hours a day on social media. Young adults aged 16 to 24 spent the most amount of time on Instagram compared to other age groups, with one in 10 scrolling for up to seven hours a day on Instagram.
How depression can lead to suicide - the Molly Russell case
The study’s authors pointed to social media’s tendency to make people feel bad about themselves through constant comparison as the key reason behind the ensuing depression.
They added that the consumption of negative social-media content and the lack of real social interactions contributed to negative feelings in users.
Renae Merrill, a doctoral student in the Public Policy Program at the University of Arkansas and co-author of the study, said that social-media users are at risk of developing mental-health problems because virtual interactions might hinder their ability to develop real-life communication skills.
“People have innate emotional needs for social connection and understanding,” she added.
The findings come as a coroner ruled that the online posts viewed on Pinterest and Instagram by 14-year-old Molly Russell prior to her suicide were not safe and “shouldn’t have been available for a child to see”.
He added that the teenager was “exposed to material that may have influenced her in a negative way and, in addition, what had started as a depression had become a more serious depressive illness”.
At the inquest, a Pinterest executive said that the site is “safe but imperfect” as he admitted harmful content still “likely exists” on the site, while a Meta executive said a number of posts shown to the court would have violated Instagram’s policies.