The link between depression and social media use among teenagers
Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses worldwide, causing disability, addiction and significant costs to health systems. Of all the stages of a person’s life, adolescence is a particularly relevant period for the development of depressive disorders. It should be noted that during adolescence, depressive symptoms may be more extensive than in adulthood, manifesting in irritability, aggression, avoidance, or other behaviors in addition to those typical of depression. In addition, young people may be particularly influenced during this period by socio-contextual factors, such as the use of mobile technologies and social media, which has increased significantly in recent years, especially since the 1990s. Teenagers can be considered in present “digital natives”, i.e. exposed to mobile devices and technologies, such as mobile phones or tablets, from birth. This widespread exposure to social media implies a change in the way teenagers interact and communicate, naturally integrating the use of these technologies in their patterns of social perception.Therefore, their use could be particularly relevant given the potential influence on adolescent health, particularly on their mental health and on the development or prevention of depression.
One of the main uses of mobile technologies and social media among teenagers is communication and social interaction with peer groups through various means (eg WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook). But the use of mobile technologies and social media could also be beneficial in that it can promote creativity, increase social presence and participation, and provide adolescents with quick access to different types of information, including information related to promoting healthy behaviors and habits. However, the use of mobile technologies and social media can also be linked to problems such as Internet addiction, absenteeism and school failure, deterioration of family and friendship relationships, and various physical and mental health problems (including injuries self-inflicted bodily harm, eating disorders and depression). In addition, it may also promote behaviors harmful to health, including self-harm, suicide, violence, and specific harmful behaviors such as cyberbullying, manipulation, or sexting.
Thus, the use of social technologies presents great opportunities in terms of creativity and ways of learning, but it can also involve certain risks, such as isolation and limited social interaction. Despite this, the study of possible health effects, especially depression, in adolescents using mobile technologies and social media is a relatively recent phenomenon. Evidence from several studies published to date, particularly since 2017, suggests a positive and significant association between certain aspects of social media use and the presence of depressive symptoms among adolescents. Two relevant factors that increased the magnitude of this association were problematic social media use and excessive social comparison. There is less relevant evidence pointing to other factors related to the undesirable effects of social networks, such as a higher level of personal involvement in networks, defined as the degree of exposure and personal information that adolescents post on networks, or exposure to content that promotes depressive-like behavior.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that a large number of studies have been identified that indicate associations between the use of social networks and other undesirable effects such as anxiety, bullying, internet addiction or smartphone addiction. Regarding Internet addiction, total time of use, frequency of use, and other variables related to excessive use, both in terms of frequency and time, may be more relevant. It should be noted that the impact of the identified factors, especially social comparison, on the occurrence of depression could be influenced by the level of family wealth and well-being. Therefore, those who come from families with a lower socio-economic status may be at a higher risk of developing depression when exposed to interacting with wealthier people. In addition, these factors might be specifically correlated with the development of certain specific depressive symptoms (eg, sleep problems or decreased ability to think or concentrate).
While emphasizing that social media does not necessarily have a negative impact on the mood of young people, other studies have described the desirable effects that their use may have. In this sense, the findings suggest that social networks can promote social support and even become points of access to information and help for people with depressive disorders. In addition, the use of new technologies could facilitate connecting young people to more social circles, thus reducing the perception of loneliness or isolation.
Some studies have identified differences between boys and girls in the impact that social media has on the development of depressive symptoms. Previous research has proposed that the prevalence of heavy use of mobile technologies may be higher in women than in men. In addition, the use of mobile technologies could be primarily for relational purposes among adolescent girls and for instrumental or entertainment purposes among adolescents, making women more exposed to its effects.
In conclusion, it is demonstrated that, during adolescence, the use of mobile technologies and social media and, in particular, excessive social comparison and personal involvement during their use could be associated with the development of depressive symptomatology. However, the adaptive use of mobile technologies and social media could also help prevent the onset of depression, promote social support, and even become a point of access to information and help for people with depressive disorders or symptoms . Other variables, such as time spent on the Internet and social media, frequency of consultation, and overuse factors, both in terms of frequency and time, may be more relevant in the development of other problems such as Internet addiction.