Too Much Social Media, Television Leads to Increased Teen Depression

A new study finds teenagers who consume social media and television at an above average rate tend to suffer more from depression.

Too Much Social Media, Television Leads to Increased Teen Depression
Sad teenage girl on her mobile device SolStock/iStock

Need more evidence that all that screen time is damaging society, a new study links it to depression among teenagers. 

According to a team of CHU Sainte-Justine and Université de Montréal scientiststeenagers who use social media and watch television at a higher rate than average are at an increased risk of suffering from depression in their teenage years. The research, published in JAMA Pediatrics, found that for every additional hour over the average a teenager spends on social media or watching television results in more severe depression.  

RELATED: CAN TECHNOLOGY CAUSE ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION?

The More Social Media Use, the Worse the Depression

"A significant between-person association indicated that a 1-hour increase in social media use was associated with a 0.64-unit (on a scale from 0 to 28) increase in the severity of depression symptoms over 4 years," the researchers wrote. "Analyzing within-person associations, we found that increasing the mean amount of time spent using social media by 1 hour within a given year was associated with a 0.41-unit increase in the severity of depression symptoms within that same year." 

The researchers, who claim this is the first study to analyze the level of depression based on screen types and time, followed 3,826 seventh to 11th graders from 31 schools in Montreal. Students were tracked from 2012 through 2018 and were required to answer questionnaires about their screen time, usage and symptoms of depression. Students were asked to rate their feeling of depression on a scale of 0 to 4. Students who rated their depression a 4 were experiencing extreme symptoms while those at zero weren't feeling any depression at all when watching TV or persuing social media. 

Not surprisingly, the researchers found teenagers who had a high level of social media use over a four year period tended to have increased depression. Same goes for television when it was above the average. High levels of computer use during a four-year span also led to increased depression while vide games didn't trigger any depressive symptoms., the researchers found. 

Less Screen Time Equals Happier Teens 

"The most important finding of the post hoc analyses was that increased social media and television use was associated with lower self-esteem over time. Taking into account the upward social comparison, it might be that repeated exposure to idealized images on social media and television decreases self-esteem," wrote the researchers. 

The researchers did caution that their work did face limitations. For starters, the researchers didn't distinguish within the screen types the students were looking at. For instance, it didn't ascertain what social media sites students were frequenting or what types of television programming they were watching. 

"To our knowledge, the present study is the first to present a developmental analysis of variations in depression and various types of screen time. This study indicated that adolescents’ social media and television use should be regulated to prevent the development of depression and to reduce exacerbation of existing symptoms over time," the researchers concluded. 

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The scientists at CHU Sainte-Justine and Université de Montréal aren't the only ones to link depression to social media. A study by the University of Pennsylvania found in November that Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram were the cause for decreased well-being. Those researchers concluded using social media less would significantly decrease feelings of depression and loneliness.  

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