Social media use increases depression and loneliness. That's the finding of a new study that is looking at the link between time spent online and poor mental health.
Experts have long theorized that a causal connection exists between the two but this has never been proven conclusively, claim researchers.
They say they have found a connection between high levels of Facebook and Instagram.
As a result, they advise that people limit the time they spend on these child or sites to a maximum of 30 minutes.
Avoiding comparing your life to the other people's lives may also help to break this link, they report.
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Social media use increases depression and loneliness. That's the finding of the study of the link between time spent online and mental health. Experts have long theorized that a causal connection existed but this has never been proven conclusively (stock image)
Few previous studies have attempted to show that social-media use harms users' well-being, says University of Pennsylvania researcher Melissa Hunt, who led the research.
Those that have put participants in unrealistic situations or limited in scope, they claims.
This includes asking for complete Facebook and relying on self-report data, for example, or conducting the work in a lab.
"We set out to do a much more comprehensive, rigorous study that was also more ecologically valid," said Dr Hunt, associate director of clinical training at the university's psychology department.
Dr Hunt says the findings do not concern any social media user to follow.
Because of these tools, it's incumbent on society to figure out how to limit damaging effects, Dr. Hunt said.
Reducing opportunities for social comparison may also help.
She added: 'When you're not busy getting sucked into social media, you're actually spending more of your life.'
"In general, I would say, put your phone down and be with the people in your life."
Experts say that they have found a connection between high levels of Facebook and Instagram use with poor mental well-being. They advise that people limit the time they spend on these children or sites (stock image)
The research team designed their experiment to include the three most popular platforms with a cohort or undergraduates.
They are collected as objective applications, not those running the background.
Each of 143 participants completed a survey to assess mood and well-being at the study's start, plus shared shots of their iPhone battery screens to offer a week's worth or baseline social media data.
Participants were then randomly assigned to a control group, which had users manage their typical social-media behavior, or an experimental group that limited time on Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram to ten minutes per platform per day.
For the next three weeks, participants have shared battery screenshots for weekly researchers.
With those data in hand, Dr. Hunt then looked at seven outcome measures including fear, missing out, anxiety, depression, and loneliness.
They found increased time spent on the social media sites and were linked with worse outcomes in all categories.
Writing in the study, its authors added: 'Our findings strongly suggest that limiting social media use to approximately 30 minutes a day may lead to significant improvement in well-being.'
WHAT IS DEPRESSION?
While it is normal to feel down from time to time, people with depression may feel persistently unhappy for weeks or months on end.
Depression can affect anyone at any age and is fairly common – approximately one in people's life.
Depression is a genuine health condition that people can not just ignore or 'snap out of it'.
Symptoms and effects vary, but you can also get lost or hopeless, or losing interest in things you used to enjoy.
It can also be asleep, tiredness, having a low appetite or sex drive, and just feeling physical pain.
In extreme cases it can lead to suicidal thoughts.
Traumatic events can trigger it, and people with a family history may be more at risk.
It is important to see if you can have depression, as it can be managed with lifestyle changes, therapy or medication.
Source: NHS Choices
"Here's the bottom line," Dr. Hunt said. 'Using less social media than you would normally lead to significant decreases in both depression and loneliness.
"These effects are particularly pronounced for folks who were more depressed when they came into the study."
Dr. Hunt stresses that the findings do not suggest that 18 to 22-year-olds should stop using social media altogether.
In fact, she is an unrealistic goal.
The work does, however, speak to the idea that limiting screen time on these apps could not hurt.
"It's a little ironic that reducing your use of social media actually makes you feel less lonely," Dr. Hunt said.
But when she digs a little deeper, the findings make sense.
"Some of the existing literature on social media suggests that there is an enormous amount of social comparison that happens.
'When you look at other people's lives, especially on Instagram, it's easy to conclude that everyone else's life is cooler or better than yours.'
Because Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, it's clear that it applies broadly to other social media platforms.
Dr Hunt also hesitates to say that these findings would replicate for other age groups or in different settings.
They are still hopes to answer, including in an upcoming study about the use of dating apps by college students.
The full findings of the study were published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.