RECENT research has shown strong associations between increased use of multiple social media platforms and depressive anxiety.
In a study of almost 2,000 young adults, it found that using more than seven different social media platforms is linked to a tripling in depression risk. The 11 most popular social media platforms are Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, email, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine and LinkedIn. Those who used between seven and 11 of these had three times the depression risk and three times the risk of having high levels of anxiety symptoms.
The results are consistent with previous research that shows there is a link between overall time-spent-on-social-media and both depression and anxiety.
But it’s not just the total amount of time spent on social media that causes problems. The greater the number of different social media platforms used the greater likelihood of someone exhibiting depressive anxiety.
Individuals who suffer from even low-grade depression or anxiety probably use more social media outlets because these individuals tend to search for a setting in which they feel most accepted. At the same time, it appears that simply using a wide variety of social media platforms leads to depressive anxiety. There are a number of possible reasons for this.
One is that participation in many different social media platforms may lead to multi-tasking between platforms, which is known to be related to poor cognitive and mental health outcomes.
A second reason is that each social media platform has its own distinct set of unwritten rules, assumptions, and idiosyncrasies. Therefore, an individual who uses only one or two platforms can learn these idiosyncrasies and use that platform for positive interaction.
However, as the number of platforms used increases, individuals may experience difficulty navigating these different worlds successfully, leading to potentially negative mood and emotions.
A third possible reason for use of multiple SM platforms leading to depressive or anxiety symptoms may involve an increased risk of damaging gaffes. While in a personal social situation, an error of judgment or miscommunication may lead to a certain level of embarrassment, in social media circles there is the risk that misinterpreted or insensitive language may be magnified substantially. In extreme cases, these types of situations can lead to severe distress and even self-harm among younger people.
Depressive or anxious individuals may turn to different platforms for support, but that the subsequent increased interaction may not fill that void. In fact, it may even lead to more feelings of exclusion and/or disillusionment. This may perpetuate a cycle of reliance on multiple SM platforms and negative mental health outcomes.
Therefore, individuals who are vulnerable to depressive anxiety should decrease the number of platforms used, especially given the risk involved.
However, it is important to note that, in today’s world, and especially among young adults, it may be more difficult than it sounds to decrease the number of social media platforms used. This is because young people tend to use different platforms for different reasons, and thus they may be reluctant to give up any one of these. For example, many people in this age range maintain Facebook accounts but use them primarily for posting photos and receiving information from formal groups such as college related activities. These individuals may use Snapchat instead for private conversations with close friends. Meanwhile, Twitter is a common source of news, while LinkedIn can be important occupationally. Finally, sites such as Tumblr, Instagram and Pinterest tend to be more popular among individuals with artistic and or craft related aspirations.
A potential solution may be to utilise educational interventions at secondary schools that specifically help individuals to manage social network use. This type of education may help individuals — especially those just beginning to use social media — to better understand the unwritten rules and idiosyncrasies of various platforms, which may help them to potentially avoid embarrassing posts that may ultimately lead to anxiety or depression. This type of education may also help young people to consider which platforms are truly necessary to their lives and valuable for their goals, and which ones may not be.