The amount of time spent on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter is not directly increasing anxiety or depression in teenagers, according to a study. Researchers from Brigham Young University in the US noted that the amount of time teenagers spend on social media has risen significantly since 2012 and continues to grow.
"We spent eight years trying to really understand the relationship between time spent on social media and depression for developing teenagers," said Sarah Coyne, a professor at Brigham Young University.
"If they increased their social media time, would it make them more depressed? Also, if they decreased their social media time, were they less depressed? The answer is no. We found that time spent on social media was not what was impacting anxiety or depression," said Coyne.
Researchers noted that mental health is a multi-process syndrome where no one stressor is likely the cause of depression or anxiety. The study, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, shows that it is not merely the amount of time spent on social media that is leading to an increase in depression or anxiety among adolescents.
"It's not just the amount of time that is important for most kids. For example, two teenagers could use social media for exactly the same amount of time but may have vastly different outcomes as a result of the way they are using it," Coyne said.
The researchers worked with 500 youth between the ages of 13 and 20 who completed once-yearly questionnaires over an eight-year span. Social media use was measured by asking participants how much time they spent on social networking sites on a typical day.
To measure depression and anxiety, participants responded to questions with different scales to indicate depressive symptoms and anxiety levels. These results were then analysed on an individual level to see if there was a strong correlation between the two variables.
At age 13, adolescents reported an average social networking use of 31-60 minutes per day, the researchers said. These average levels increased steadily so that by young adulthood, they were reporting upwards of two hours per day, they said.
The study found that this increase in social networking, though, did not predict future mental health. Adolescents' increases in social networking beyond their typical levels did not predict changes in anxiety or depression one year later, the researchers found.