Recent longitudinal research from Brock University in Canada suggests that depression leads to people spending more time on social media, rather than those who spend more time of social media being more likely to develop depression.
This study contradicts many of the ‘moral panic’ type headlines which suggests a link between heavy social media use and depression. Such headlines tend to be based on studies which look at correlations between indicators of depression and indicators of social media use at the same point in time, which cannot tell us which comes first: the depression or the heavy social media use.
This Canadian study followed a sample of teenagers from 2015 (and university students for 6 years) and surveyed them at intervals using a set of questions designed to measure depression levels and another set designed to measure social media usage and other aspects of screen time.
What they found was that teenage girls who showed signs of depression early on in the study were more likely to have higher rates of social media usage later on, leading to the theory that teenage girls who are depressed may well turn to social media to make themselves feel better.
The study found no relationship between boys or adults of both sexes and depression and social media.
This is an interesting research study which really goes to show the advantages of the longitudinal method (researching the same sample at intervals over time) in possibly busting a few myths about the harmful effects of social media!