Social media use linked to depression

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Heavy social media users trapped in depression cycle

Social media isn't necessarily good for us. In fact, studies suggest that Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms may have fueled a spike in suicide, addiction, and a host of other mental health problems. Now, a new study in Depression and Anxiety finds that social media use is strongly linked to depression among young adults living in the United States.

"Social media use was significantly associated with increased depression," the authors write. "Given the proliferation of social media, identifying the mechanisms and direction of this association is critical."

Perhaps the first case of social media-induced psychosis involved Jason Russell, the man behind the mega-viral Kony 2012 campaign that raised awareness about child soldiers in Uganda. Shortly after being catapulted into internet fame, Russell had an emotional meltdown on camera (which, incidentally, went almost as viral as Kony 2012). Doctors called it "reactive psychosis", saying that his sudden fame had inspired a sort of temporary insanity.

But since then, even scientists have been slow to recognize that internet culture may have deleterious effects on our brains—at least in part because nobody wants to be, "waving a cane at electric light or blaming the television for kids these days," as one Newsweek article put it. Indeed, a peer reviewer once famously rejected an article on the psychiatric study of internet abuse in 2006, quipping, "What's next? Microwave abuse and Chapstick addiction?"

RELATED: Facebook over the years

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Social media use linked to depression

The original Facebook homepage from 2004 with a small picture of Al Pacino in the top left corner.

Photo courtesy: Max Slater-Robins/WayBack Machine

Mark Zuckerberg originally described himself as not only the founder of Facebook, but also as the "Master and Commander" and "Enemy of the State."

Photo courtesy: WayBack Machine

Here's what a Facebook group page looked like in 2005.

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For comparison, this is what a Facebook group page looks like today.

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The Facebook homepage in 2005 also listed all of the schools the social network was in -- and still included the photo of Al Pacino.

Photo courtesy: Max Slater-Robins/WayBack Machine

The company decided to drop the "the" from its name in 2005, after it bought the domain Facebook.com for $200,000.

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We love this gem about "poking" from one of the original FAQ pages.

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Facebook's homepage in 2006 was a stripped-back affair, doing away with the list of schools in favor of a simple login option.

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Mark Zuckerberg's profile in 2006.

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Facebook launched the News Feed to display all your friends' activity in a single timeline in 2006.

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At the same time, Facebook introduced the Mini-Feed. But the entire concept of a News Feed resulted in some very public outrage. Some users even went so far to call one of Facebook's product managers the devil.

Photo courtesy: WayBack Machine

Facebook's 2007 homepage contained the first instance of its now-synonymous logo and offered the "latest news" from friends.

Photo courtesy: Max Slater-Robins/WayBack Machine

The Facebook of 2008 continued to refine the homepage and offered options for signing up.

Photo courtesy: Max Slater-Robins/WayBack Machine

Facebook gained the "connected world" diagram in 2009, which lasted all the way until 2011.

Photo courtesy: Max Slater-Robins/WayBack Machine

In 2009, Facebook's home page also got a facelift. Posts started to stream through the News Feed in real-time.

Photo courtesy: WayBack Machine

That same year, Facebook also introduced its algorithm for determining the order in which status updates should be displayed.

Photo courtesy: WayBack Machine

Facebook changed its logo font in 2010 but left the homepage much the same.

Photo courtesy: WayBack Machine

2010 was also when Facebook brought notifications to the top navigation bar following yet another redesign.

Photo courtesy: WayBack Machine

Facebook also rolled out a new, more visual profile in 2010. It added a row of recently tagged images below your name and basic profile information.

Photo courtesy: WayBack Machine

Facebook left the design the same in 2011, but made the input boxes used to log in clearer.

Photo courtesy: Max Slater-Robins/WayBack Machine

Facebook launched the News Ticker in 2011 so users could keep up with their friends while browsing through other parts of Facebook.

Photo courtesy: WayBack Machine

The Facebook Timeline feels like it's been around since the beginning. But it launched in 2011 to act as a virtual timeline of your entire life.

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Facebook also split its instant messaging into a different app called Messenger in 2011. It's now got more than 800 million monthly users.

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Facebook swapped out the connected world diagram for a phone in 2012 as its users moved from desktop to mobile. Today, over 800 million people access Facebook on mobile everyday.

Photo courtesy: Max Slater-Robins/WayBack Machine

Facebook started flooding the News Feed with sponsored stories in January 2012.

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Facebook settled on a design in 2013 that it would stay with for the next few years.

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This is what Facebook's mobile app looked like when it first launched.

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It has since been completely redesigned.

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Facebook also owns a bunch of other popular apps, most notably Instagram, which the company bought for $1 billion in 2012. With more than 400 million monthly users, that seems like a steal nowadays.

Photo courtesy: Business Insider

2015 was a big year for Facebook that saw its first ever day with one billion users online simultaneously. The company had figured out how to make money from mobile too, turning it into a $300 billion business.

Photo courtesy: Max Slater-Robins/WayBack Machine

Today, more than 1.5 billion people use the social network every single month.

Photo courtesy: Facebook

And more than 1.4 billion people use it on their mobile phones every month. Not bad, considering 12 years ago smartphones didn't even exist.

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Here's the Facebook homepage today, on its 12th birthday.
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Fortunately, the medical community is now beginning to face the reality that social media plays such a prominent role in our lives that it would be sort of strange if it didn't affect our mental health. In a nod to the possibility that internet use is harming us, the newest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the bible of psychiatry, includes an entry on Internet Addiction Disorder, with a request for "further study".

And mental health experts have risen to the occasion. Since the new DSM was released in 2013, literally thousands of studies have examined mental health under the lens of internet culture and social media. The findings are sobering. Recent studies have linked our online sharing to feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and obsessive behavior, especially in young adults.

But this new paper provides some of the strongest numbers yet suggesting that social media use is linked to depression among U.S. teens. For the study, researchers asked a surprisingly robust sample (roughly 40 percent non-white and 50 percent female—no small feat in science) of 1,787 American internet users between the ages of 19 and 32 to self-report the amount of time they spent on social media per day, and then rated their levels of depression using the celebrated Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System Depression Scale.

They found a strong correlation between social media use and depression and, worse, that the more time spent on social media per day, the more likely young adults were to feel depressed. In fact, the most active social media users were over twice as likely to suffer from depression as the general public.

Now, some skepticism is certainly necessary. As with any correlation, the converse is just as likely to be true, so the proper conclusion could be that depressed teens are more likely to use social media, not that social media causes teens to feel depressed. And then there's the classic causation problem—so this study cannot prove that social media causes anything at all.

But it certainly adds a strong, diverse sample of young adults to the growing body of research that suggests the Internet Age may have its downsides. Interestingly, some developers suspect the solution to the problem may be within the technology itself. At least one team has already launched a social media platform specifically engineered to combat depression, by encouraging people to share their feelings, fears, and stories online. "There are scores of social media platforms out there, but true happiness is a tremendously compelling feature," Wired notes.

Whether true happiness can be contained within a TweetDeck or a Facebook feed, however, remains to be seen.

The post Social Media Use Linked To Depression (Again) appeared first on Vocativ.

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