Are Teens Who Spend More Time on Social Media More Likely to Suffer Anxiety and Depression?

Alyssa Topping, Reporter

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Evidence is mounting that there is a link between social media and depression. In several recent studies, teenage and young adult users who spend the most time on Instagram, Facebook and other platforms were shown to have a substantially (from 13 to 66 percent) higher rate of reported depression than those who spent the least time. A 2017 study of over half a million eighth through 12th graders found that the number exhibiting high levels of depressive symptoms increased by 33 percent between 2010 and 2015. In the same period, the suicide rate for girls in that age group increased by 65 percent.

Smartphones were introduced in 2007, and by 2015 fully 92 percent of teens and young adults owned a smartphone. The rise in depressive symptoms correlates with smartphone adoption during that period, even when matched year by year, observes the study’s lead author, San Diego State University psychologist Jean Twenge. Over that same time period there was a sharp spike in reports of students seeking help at college and university counseling centers, principally for depression and anxiety. Visits jumped 30 percent between 2010 and 2015. A possible source of depression may be what teenagers are not doing during while they’re spending time on social media, including physical activity and things that generate a sense of accomplishment, like learning new skills and developing talents. While we don’t yet have conclusive evidence that social media use actually causes depression, we do have plenty of warning signs that it may be affecting kids negatively. So it’s smart for parents to check in regularly with kids about their social media use, to make sure it’s positive and healthy, and guide them towards ways to change it, if you think it’s not.