Recent reports of an increase in adolescent depression are deeply concerning.
Clearly there are a multitude of factors that may be contributing to this disturbing trend. One issue that many observers worry about is the possibility that young people’s use of social media may be contributing to the rise in adolescent depression. In addition, there are questions about whether social media is leading teens and young adults to feel “less than” their peers, whether they feel lonely and left out by seeing other friends together online, whether they are being victimized by negative comments that exacerbate negative emotions. These concerns are prompting much-needed research in this area, and highlighting the need to better understand both the wide variety of activities young people are engaging in on social media, and how those media are perceived by young people themselves. All the while, the “pull” of these social technologies for young people seems undeniable. This is leading some researchers, tech companies, and health advocates to explore social media’s potential for spreading positive messages, as a key component of interventions to help young people coping with depression and other challenges.
Therefore this survey also sought to collect young people’s descriptions of a wide variety of social media behaviors to begin to explore the association between types of social media experiences and mental well-being among teens and young adults. We have collected detailed information about how respondents describe using social media: how often they report checking it, how often they report posting, how frequently they say they take specific actions, whether they say they get positive or negative feedback from their followers, and how it makes them feel.
Employing a widely used and well-validated scale to measure respondents’ self-reported levels of depressive symptoms (the PHQ-8), we present a preliminary look at whether those who report moderate to severe depressive symptoms differ from those without symptoms in how they report using social media. It is important to note that due to the cross-sectional, self-reported nature of these survey responses, we are not able to assess the full possible relationship between social media use and depression, nor can we draw any conclusions with regard to causality. Rather, this survey is intended as a beginning – an attempt to gather a wide range of information on the many ways young people report using and responding to social media, and how their reported social media use does or does not vary based on their depressive symptoms as measured by the PHQ-8…