The Link Between Depression And Social Media

Reviewed by Whitney White, MS CMHC, NCC., LPC

Published 06/24/2022

Our mental health can be impacted by different things we encounter in life. One of these things is technology. Technology is an important part of our daily living. Technological advancement in the present world has led to the emergence of numerous online platforms that offer a lot of benefits to users. Social media may have both positive and negative impacts on people's mental health.

Researchers have found that spending time online may cause symptoms of mental illness, such as depression. Social media sites are growing daily, and many people have a few different social media platforms that they check daily. Research shows that in 2008, only 10% of Americans had a profile on social media. There was a rapid growth in this percentage in 2019— incredibly, it became 79%. Globally, about 3.5 billion people are seen to be active users of social media— the number keeps growing each year by about 9%. 

Specifically, it's important to know that the incessant way social media sites are accessed, and the certain negative behaviors you participate in may cause depression. Research funded by the U.S National Institute of Health (NIH), shows that social media users came online on an average of 30 times in a week and over an hour per day. It's emphasized that these participants (one-quarter) were predisposed to depression. This research was done on social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Reddit, Snapchat, Tumblr, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.

What are the Positive Aspects of Social Media?

Although social media can negatively affect your mental health, there are benefits it can offer to help your relationships and support your health. The following are the positive aspects of social media:

  • Staying connected with friends and family and communicating with them around the world from time to time
  • Meeting new friends and joining new communities (usually, people with similar ambitions or interest as yours)
  • Offering or seeking emotional support during hard times
  • Finding a platform to express yourself or to show your creativity
  • Discovering sources of learning and invaluable information
  • Raising awareness on vital issues by joining or promoting good causes
  • Finding helpful social connections, especially when you have social anxiety, limited independence, or are marginalized

What are the Negative Aspects of Social Media? 

Almost everything that has a positive side has a negative one. Despite the benefits, social media offers, it has its negative aspects. Research has shown that inordinate use of social media can make you prone to depression, anxiety, self-harm, loneliness, and even thoughts of death and suicide. The following are the negative experiences that may be promoted by social media:

  • FOMO (fear of missing out): The fear that you're missing out can often compel you to stay on your phone from time to time checking for updates, or uncontrollably responding to every alert that comes in— sometimes, it may be when you're driving or when it’s time to go to bed— consequently, it may put your life at risk or make you miss out on sleep.
  • Depression and anxiety: Giving more time to social media interaction than face-to-face contact can increase the risk of experiencing mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Actually, face-to-face or eye-to-eye contact is needed by everyone to be healthy mentally. It helps relieve stress and enhances your mood.
  • Inadequacy about your appearance or life: There several deceptions people are exposed to on social media— some images are manipulated. People frequently only share the “good side” of themselves on social media. Sometimes, even when you are aware of this, you may still feel inadequate about your appearance or life.
  • Cyberbullying: Cyberbullying is a common event which may be characterized by offensive comments, hurtful rumors, abuse, or lies that can affect people's emotions. Research shows that about 10% of teens complain of cyberbullying on social media, especially Twitter. The potential side effects cyberbullying can have on children may include substance use, being more likely to be bullied in real life, low self-esteem, poor academic performance, unwillingness to attend school, and experiencing mental health challenges. 
  • Isolation: Isolation and feelings of loneliness are common symptoms of mental illness. The University of Pennsylvania conducted research showing that the inordinate use of social media such as Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook can put you at risk of feeling lonely. However, it's shown through the same study that when reducing the use of social media, it helps you feel less isolated and lonely and promotes health in general.

What are the Clinical Symptoms of Depression if Affected by Social Media?

There are symptoms of depression you may see when social media begins to interfere with your life. It's very important to see a doctor to know why your mood is affected. You can take this depression test for potential clarity on the symptoms of depression you may be experiencing. The following are some of the common depressive symptoms you may experience when affected by social media:

  • Feeling worthless
  • A depressed mood, with feelings of hopelessness or sadness
  • Loss of interest in other activities you had once enjoyed
  • Changes in your appetite or weight (gain or loss)
  • Sleeping problems such as hypersomnia or insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating, thinking, or making decisions
  • Slowed down movements or agitated
  • Thoughts about death and suicide

There are other signs you see when social media begin to impact your mental health. These may include:

  • Comparing yourself with someone else on social media unfavorably. Here, it's an indication that you have a negative body image or low self-esteem.
  • Spending more of your time online than face-to-face contact with friends and family.
  • Experiencing cyberbullying. You may develop the feeling that you can't control what people say about you online.
  • Having no time or limited one for self-reflection. You become engrossed in what you do online with no spare time or limited time to reflect on your personality
  • Involving yourself in risky behavior. Many individuals engage in risky behavior to gain likes or positive reactions online. Some of this behavior may include posting embarrassing material, playing dangerous pranks, accessing your phone in an unsafe situation (such as while driving), or cyberbullying others.

How to Treat and Manage Social Depression

Undoubtedly, social media can interfere with your mental wellness. Being responsible with its use is important. While social media may help you foster connections with others, it can also create a lack of connection and isolation. If you’re experiencing depression that may be related to use of social media, seek the help of a mental health professional like a therapist. A professionally trained therapist will help you make positive behavior changes when you're struggling with depression.

Other ways to deal with depression caused by social media include:

  • Setting time limits for visiting social media sites on your phone
  • Avoiding the use of the phone in bed
  • Deleting your social media account for a time
  • Getting support from your friends— challenge a friend to disconnect with you
  • Try to keep your phone where you will not easily reach it.