Studies Show Link between Social Media and Depression


Like many other conditions in our modern world, depression appears to be on the rise. One study found that depression rates increased from 6.6% to 7.3% from 2005 to 2015. But most concerning was the increase of depression in children age 12 to 17, which rose 4% over that same time span.1


Research shows a clear link between modernization and depression rates, which could explain why depression continues to increase.2 There could be a number of reasons for this correlation, but one area that is gaining more attention is the proliferation of social media.


Social media linked to depression


Recent studies are beginning to open people’s eyes to the potential negative impact social media can have on our health. According to research funded by the US National Institutes of Health, those who use social media the most have significantly increased odds of depression compared to those who use it sparingly.3


Not only is the amount of social media use significant, but the time of day we use it is as well. For example, one study found that using social media before bed was strongly associated with poor sleep in adolescents. The same study also found a strong link between social media use and depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.4


Does social media cause depression?


young woman looking at phone - social media and depression concept


Although we’ve established that there is a link between social media and depression, this doesn’t necessarily mean that excess social media use actually causes depression. It could be that people who are more likely to be depressed just use social media more. Or, other related factors could be contributing as well, such as the increased use of smartphones.


What we do know based on recent research, however, is that limiting social media use can indeed have positive health benefits that include a reduction in depression symptoms. For evidence of this, we can look at a 2018 study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. In the study, university students were randomly assigned to either limit their social media use to 10 minutes per day per platform, or use social media as usual. The group who limited social media use to about 30 minutes per day showed significantly reduced depression and loneliness after this 3-week study.5


What can we learn from these studies?


man holding phone with #fomo


One of the key messages we should take from these studies is that using social media too much and for the wrong reasons can be detrimental to our health. Social media should be used as a supplement to old-fashioned, face-to-face interactions and should not be a replacement for them. Using social media as a replacement for real-world experience can easily lead to isolation. Plus, excessive social media use reduces the overall time we have to spend on meaningful things such as exercise and educational pursuits.


Missing out on direct communication can be especially detrimental for children. Clinical psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair believes that a decrease in real-world interaction has led to a decrease in social skills among kids. As she states in her book, The Big Disconnect, “It’s not like it creates a nonverbal learning disability, but it puts everybody in a nonverbal disabled context, where body language, facial expression, and even the smallest kinds of vocal reactions are rendered invisible.” Of course, these same barriers to communication are in place when we use social media to communicate as adults as well.


Another message we can take from studies on social media is that fear of missing out, or FOMO, and envy are strongly associated with social media use. We may be afraid that we will miss out on something important by not staying connected to our friends and others on social media. And, we tend to compare our lives with others based on the pictures and updates they are posting.


Minimizing the negative effects of social media


digital detox concept - turning off power button


If you find yourself spending most of your time online instead of in the real world, have a compulsive need to “check in” on your social media throughout the day, or are experiencing cyberbullying or other negative interactions frequently on social media, it’s time to limit your use of this medium. To limit the negative effects of social media in your life, follow these tips:


  • Don’t use your phone before bed
  • Limit the number of social networks you use
  • Set time limits on your phone for social media sites
  • Set designated times to ignore or turn off your phone
  • Consider a “digital detox”
  • Use lists and filter updates you don’t want to see

If you have trouble following through with these tips and you feel that social media is still controlling your life, it may be time to get some professional help. A mental health professional can help you find a healthier balance in your life so you can steer clear of the negative effects of excessive social media use. Many wellness professionals use ZYTO EVOX to assist in overcoming social media addiction as well.




1. “Depression is on the rise in the US, especially among young teens.” Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

2. Hidaka, B.H. “Depression as a disease of modernity: explanations for increasing prevalence.” Journal of Affective Disorders 140, no. 3 (2012): 205-214.

3. Lin, L., J.E. Sidani, et al. “Association between Social Media Use and Depression among U.S. Young Adults.” Journal of Depression and Anxiety 33, no. 4 (2016): 323-331.

4. Woods, H.C., & H. Scott. “#Sleepyteens: Social media use in adolescence is associated with poor sleep quality, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.” Journal of Adolescence 51 (2016): 41-49.

5. Hunt, M.G., R. Marx, et al. “No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression.” Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology 37, no. 10 (2018): 751-768.