social media, loneliness and depression

New research on social media, loneliness and depression

Psychiatry, Technology

You have probably heard that spending too much time on social media might lead to feeling worse. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram—that promise to keep us more connected—may in fact be making some of us less connected and more lonely.

Older research

The studies that concluded that social media have negative consequences were mostly so-called “correlational” studies. Meaning, the researchers found that people who use lots of social media had a higher rate of depression. But what came first? Did the social media itself make them depressed? Or, perhaps the people who use lots of social media were already depressed, and used social media as a way to (usually unsuccessfully) make them feel better?

New research

To find the answer, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, led by psychologist Melissa C. Hunt, carried out a different type of study. They recruited 143 college students, 108 women and 35 men, all of whom used Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. They randomly assigned them to two different groups.

One group was instructed to continue to use their social networks as they would normally. The other group was instructed to limit their total use to 10 minutes per app per day (30 min. total). The researchers were able to check that the students complied, as each day they sent screenshots that showed their daily usage.


At the beginning of the study, the students underwent testing of their mood which measured their degree of loneliness, anxiety, depression, and “fear of missing out”. At the end of the three-week study, the students were again tested in the same areas.

The results showed that the students in the group that limited their social media use were significantly less depressed and lonely than the students who had used their social networks normally. And the students who were most depressed at the beginning of the study were the ones who most benefited from limiting their usage. Some students who started out with a moderate to severe level of depression dropped to a mild level of depression, IF they slowed down on using social media.

Social networks fake reality

When you interact with a person face-to-face, you can see (and often share) the imperfect parts as well as the good. On social media (especially Instagram), people only share their best moments. This is not real intimacy, but people seeing the posts at some level they believe that most others are living happier lives.

Social media doesn’t give the “healthy mix” of good and bad that defines true relationships and real intimacy.

Another reason social media can make people depressed is that it robs them of time they should be studying or otherwise getting things accomplished. They spend less time on real interactions. Their online relationships do not nourish their mind and soul as much as they believe.

What to do

This study gives much more evidence that cutting down on social media use can help your mood and decrease depression and loneliness, especially if you started out depressed. You might find (as did some of the students), that you don’t really need all the apps, and spending all that time talking to others online is not really so great. Many of us have slowly become online addicts, and the cure is to cut back or even cut out some of it completely. Only then do you realize what you have been missing.

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See also in ProcuraMed:

11 lesser-known symptoms of depression

How to avoid the health hazards of too much blue light exposure

Esta postagem também está disponível em: Portuguese (Brazil)

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