Social Media and Computer Use Associated with Depression Symptoms


Investigators examined more than 3500 adolescents and found associations between computer and social media use, but not video game and television use.

Depressed teen

A new study has found that computer and social media use were associated with depression in adolescents. 

Investigators from the University of Montreal examined associations of depression symptoms and screen time across a variety of mediums and found that computer and social media use, but not video game and television use were associated with depression.

As technology continues to become more engrained in the daily lives of patients and physicians, many have hypothesized about possible associations between overuse and depression. To evaluate this potential association, investigators conducted a secondary analysis of a trial (NCT01655615) examining the 4-year efficacy of a personality-targeted drug and alcohol prevention intervention.

A total of 3826 participants enrolled in school in the Greater Montreal area were studied beginning in Sept. 2012 and data was collected until Sept. 2018. Of the 3826, a cohort of 3659 participants fulfilled the present study’s inclusion requirements.

Symptoms of depression were assessed using the depression sub scale of the Brief Symptoms Inventory and self-esteem was measured using the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale. Participants were also asked how much time per day they spent using social networking sites, watching shows or movies on television or the computer, other computer activities, and playing video games — whether on a computer, phone, or gaming console. Time spent was categorized as 0 to 30 minutes, 30 minutes to 1 hour and 30 minutes, 1 hour and 30 minutes to 2 hours and 30 minutes, and 3 hours and 30 minutes or more.

The mean age of the study population was 12.7 years and 47% (1798) were female. Investigators noted that, in general, depression symptoms increased yearly (year 1 mean 4.29 [5.10] points; year 4 mean 5.45 [5.93] points).

Results showed significant between-person associations that showed for every hour increase in social media use, there was a 0.64-unit increase in depressive symptoms (95% CI, 0.32-0.35). Investigators noted similar between-level associations for computer use (0.69; 95% CI, 0.47-0.91).

Investigators also found significant within-person associations between social media use and depressive symptoms. For every 1 hour increase in social media use in a year there was an additional 0.41-unit increase in symptoms that year. A similar association was noted for television use (0.18; 95% CI, 0.09-0.27).

Investigators wrote that the apparent between-person and within-person associations between screen time and self-esteem and exercise supported upward social comparison and not displacement hypothesis. Additionally, investigators noted that significant interaction between the within-person and between-person associations concerning self-esteem and social media supported reinforcing spirals hypothesis. 

Investigators noted 2 limitations within their study. The study did not distinguish different mediums within the various types of screen time, because of this they were unable to determine if specific types of content were associated with depression. Furthermore, results were obtained using a reliable measurement scale among large samples of adolescents, but they may not match those from research in a clinical setting.

This study, titled “Association of Screen Time and Depression in Adolescence,” is published in JAMA Pediatrics.

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