Some people might be starting to come to grips with the fact that social media isn’t so perfect for mental wellness. Others may think that getting on it is going to give them a boost–but notably depending on how you invest your time on it, you might well feel worse after using. Plenty of studies have found correlations between higher social networking use and poorer psychological health, including depression, anxiety, feelings of depression and isolation, reduced self-esteem, and sometimes even suicidality.
The very first study, completed at the University of Pennsylvania and published at the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, asked 140 undergraduates to continue their routine usage of Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram, or to limit each one to 10 minutes per day (30 minutes total). The participants also provided data from their phones to show precisely how long they were actually spending on the programs, instead of relying upon memory, which is unreliable. However, two new studies underline this reality by showing not just correlation, but causation–in other words, that putting your own time on social networking actually has measurable effects on mental health.
Before and following the “intervention,” the participants filled out questionnaires so that the researchers could understand how they were performing psychologically–they had been particularly interested in stress, depression, loneliness, and also the famous “fear of falling out,” or FOMO.
As the researchers expected, individuals who restricted their social media usage to 30 minutes felt significantly better following the three-week period, reporting reduced depression and isolation, especially those who came to the study with greater degrees of depression. Interestingly, the two groups reported FOMO and less anxiety in the end, which the group suggests may just be a resulting benefit of increased self-monitoring.
“Here’s the most important thing,” said study author Melissa G. Hunt in an overview. “Utilizing less social networking than you normally would leads to significant declines in both depression and isolation. These effects are especially pronounced for individuals who were more depressed when they came into the study.”
The results confirm what others have indicated, with the added bonus of being one of the very few studies to utilize a genuine experimental design, which has the power to show causation. Additionally, it appears to imply that we do not need to cut out social media usage entirely, but just to curtail it.
“It is a little ironic that reducing the use of social media actually causes you to feel less lonely,” said Hunt. “A number of the present literature on social media suggests there is an immense amount of social comparison that occurs.
They reported that they felt worse about their particular looks just in the first condition, together with peers, but not family.
“The results revealed that these young adult women felt more disappointed with their own bodies,” said researcher Jennifer Mills in a declaration. “They felt worse about their own appearance after taking a look at social networking pages of somebody that they believed to be more attractive than them. Even though they felt bad about themselves until they came to the study, on average, they still felt worse after finishing the task.”
What’s also significant to point out, but wasn’t analyzed here, is that making any type of comparison–not just to individuals who you think are more attractive or smarter, but also individuals who you think are not as attractive or clever (or something ) compared to you–is linked to poorer well-being. A really neat study a couple of years ago illustrated this, discovering the link between social networking and melancholy was mostly mediated with this “social comparison” variable. And this was true in either direction, “upward” or “downward.”
The most important thing is again what researchers–and even some of the developers of social media apps themselves–have been saying for a while now. Social media, particularly spending extended periods of time on it, is just not that good for all of us. We may not have to quit it completely, but restricting our time on social media much, and reconnecting with family and friends in real life, is certainly the thing to do.