Facebook and Twitter Experts warn social media could lead to a mental health timebomb

Exposure to social media also may cause depression, which could then in turn fuel more use of social media, experts have warned

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Social media could lead to a mental health timebomb

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Young adults are struggling with social media addiction far more than previously thought, researchers have warned. 

The more time young adults use social media, the more likely they are to be depressed, according to new research from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

They say social media sites could be fueling 'Internet addiction,' a proposed psychiatric condition closely associated with depression. 

The findings could guide clinical and public health interventions to tackle depression, forecast to become the leading cause of disability in high-income countries by 2030.

Read more: Ghana's safety hanging in the balance

'Because social media has become such an integrated component of human interaction, it is important for clinicians interacting with young adults to recognize the balance to be struck in encouraging potential positive use, while redirecting from problematic use,' said Brian Primack, director of Pitt's Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health.

'It may be that people who already are depressed are turning to social media to fill a void,' said said lead author Lui yi Lin of the University of Pittsburgh. 

Ms. Lin said exposure to social media also may cause depression, which could then in turn fuel more use of social media.  

She warned exposure to highly idealized representations of peers on social media elicits feelings of envy and the distorted belief that others lead happier, more successful lives.

The research also found engaging in activities of little meaning on social media may give a feeling of 'time wasted' that negatively influences mood.

It could be fueling 'Internet addiction,' a proposed psychiatric condition closely associated with depression.

See also: Mental illness: How to look out for early warning signs

Spending more time on social media may increase the risk of exposure to cyber-bullying or other similar negative interactions, which can cause feelings of depression, she said.

The research, funded by the National Institutes of Health, is published online and scheduled for the April 1 issue of the journal Depression and Anxiety.

It is the first large, nationally representative study to examine associations between use of a broad range of social media outlets and depression.

Previous studies on the subject have yielded mixed results, been limited by small or localized samples, and focused primarily on one specific social media platform, rather than the broad range often used by young adults.

In 2014, Dr. Primack and his colleagues sampled 1,787 U.S. adults ages 19 through 32, using questionnaires to determine social media use and an established depression assessment tool.

The questionnaires asked about the 11 most popular social media platforms at the time: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine and LinkedIn.

On average the participants used social media a total of 61 minutes per day and visited various social media accounts 30 times per week. 

More than a quarter of the participants were classified as having 'high' indicators of depression.

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There were significant and linear associations between social media use and depression whether social media use was measured in terms of total time spent or frequency of visits.

For example, compared with those who checked least frequently, participants who reported most frequently checking social media throughout the week had 2.7 times the likelihood of depression.

Similarly, compared to peers who spent less time on social media, participants who spent the most total time on social media throughout the day had 1.7 times the risk of depression. 

The researchers controlled for other factors that may contribute to depression, including age, sex, race, ethnicity, relationship status, living situation, household income and education level.

In addition to encouraging clinicians to ask about social media use among people who are depressed, the findings could be used as a basis for public health interventions leveraging social media, the team said.

Credit: Daily Mail

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