A new study shows that teenagers who use social media sites for more than two hours every day are more likely to suffer from feelings of depression and even suicidal thoughts. The study, published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, analysed data collected from 750 students for the 2013 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey.
The researchers found a link between heavy social media use and increased likelihood of mental health problems, including psychological distress and suicidal thoughts.
They also concluded that if children are using social networks frequently, it should serve as an indicator to anyone supporting the child that action might be needed. The results corroborate some previous findings on the connection between social media and the mental health of teens, wrote the authors, although other studies, of university students, found no such relationship. The discrepancy could reflect a difference in the way depressive symptoms were measured, or the fact older youth may handle challenges differently than their social peers.
In other words, social media could be part of the problem or part of the solution — or maybe both.
Although the issue needs more research, Sampasa-Kanyinga said the findings send a message. He and co-author Rosamund Lewis wrote:
“Parents need to be more aware of the pitfalls of social networking sites (SNSs) and actively engage with young people in making it a safer and enjoyable experience for them. Parents should consider frequent use of SNSs as a possible indicator of, or risk for, mental health problems among children.”
The study advised that public and mental health bodies should invest more in engaging young people on these platforms in order to address mental health issues more effectively.
Given that youth with poor mental health are spending significant time on social networking sites (SNSs), public health and other service providers may be able to reach a key vulnerable population if they also engage youth on SNSs with health promotion approaches and supports
While the use of social networking sites is obviously not an explanation for the occurrence of mental health problems, the researchers did note that high amounts of screen time could be part of a complex relationship of factors, including sedentary behaviour.