Depression linked to social media is TWICE as high among teenage girls

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There are countless studies linking teens' social media use with depression, but that has advocates wondering if technology might actually be the best way to reach those suffering.

In a new paper, researchers analyzed the data of about 1,000 young people from the Millennium Cohort Study to see how social media use affects teenage boys and girls.

About two-fifths of girls surveyed spend more than three hours per day on social media apps compared to only one-fifth of boys.

Rising suicide rates and depression in US teens and young adults have prompted researchers to ask a provocative question: Could the same devices that some people blame for contributing to tech-age angst also be used to detect it?

The study also found that 12 per cent of light social media users and 38 per cent of heavy social media users (more than five hours a day) showed signs of having more severe depression. "For girls, greater daily hours of social media use corresponded to a stepwise increase in depressive symptoms".

The study suggests that 40% of girls had experienced online harassment or bullying compared to 25% of boys, while 40% of girls reported their sleep often being disrupted compared to 28% of boys.

Time spent on social media was related to involvement with online harassment which had direct and indirect associations (via sleep, poor body image and self-esteem) with depressive symptom scores.

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Image Getty Images

"These findings are highly relevant to current policy development on guidelines for the safe use of social media and calls on industry to more tightly regulate hours of social media use for young people", she said in a statement.

For example, 60 percent of girls who are depressed are unhappy with their appearance and 2¹/₂ times more likely than boys to be dissatisfied with their weight.

She said families may also "want to reflect on when and where it's OK to be on social media" and consider restrictions on teenagers having mobile devices in their bedrooms.

Social media is a fact of life for today's teenagers, though little is known about the impact of long-term exposure to its less than desirable aspects: cyberbullying, impossible beauty standards and violent content.

The study was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

"Nonetheless, it is likely that excessive use of social media does lead to poorer confidence and mental health", said Stephen Scott, director of the national academy for parenting research at the institute of psychiatry, psychology and neuroscience at King's College London.

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