With all the ways we have today to keep connected to others—Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, and more—we might think that fewer people feel lonely or isolated. But is this really true?
Research shows conflicting conclusions
There have been a number of studies on this issue, with conflicting conclusions. Some research concludes that more time on Facebook and other social networks may increase depression and lower self-esteem, particularly in children and adolescents. Others have concluded the opposite.
Another interesting aspect of this topic is that IF lots of social network use is associated with depression or problems with self-esteem, which came first? Is it that using the social networks slowly caused someone to become depressed and negative, or is it that people who naturally are more depressed or lonely are more attracted to social networks? It might even be a combination of both factors.
Usually when various research studies reach conflicting conclusions, over time, better and better studies are done that finally cause most experts to agree on what is the “truth”. Let us briefly look at two university studies published recently, that conclude that yes, heavy social network use is associated with mental health issues.
The first, published in the journal American Journal of Preventive Medicine, studied 1787 adults from ages 19 to 32. Fifty percent were men and 50% women. The researchers surveyed each participant as to how much time they spent daily on social media, and how many different social media sties they visited on an average day. Each volunteer also completed a survey with a number of questions that measured feelings of social isolation.
The results showed that the people who used social media for more than 2 hours per day were twice as likely to report feeling social isolated compared with people of the same age who were on social networks less than 30 minutes a day. And people who visited social networks 58 or more times per week were 3 times more likely to feel isolated than people who visited these sites less than 9 times per week.
Last year a large study was published in the journal Depression and Anxiety that instead of measuring social isolation, measured depression. The conclusions were essentially the same as the social isolation study. People who spent lots of time on social networks had significantly higher depression scores.
Why social networks may cause loneliness-depression
The first explanation is that if a person is spending lots of time on social media, they are spending less time on real human interactions, that is, face-to-face connections. The second reason is that using social media might make some people feel inadequate. They see that everyone else seems to be living a more exciting and happier life than they do (which of course may not be true).
What to do
These two studies suggest mental health risks from using social networks too much, but how do you know if you are using too much? If you feel more socially isolated now than a few years ago (when you likely were not on social networks as much), see if you can limit your use. Spend some of the time you save on social networks and connect with people face to face.
Another approach is to get a pet that gives the owner love and attention. For some people, this is as beneficial as more social visits with other humans.
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Esta postagem também está disponível em: Portuguese (Brazil)