Social media allows people to communicate like never before, but a new study suggests it might be causing depression in young people.

The study, forthcoming in the journal Depression and Anxiety, examined 1,787 people aged 19 to 32. Researchers asked participants to fill out a questionnaire about their social media habits. Questions specifically focused on the 11 biggest platforms in 2014: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine, and LinkedIn.

Researchers also assessed participants for depression and found a correlation between higher rates of social media use and depression. Those who used social media most often were 2.7 times more likely to be depressed compared to participants who rarely used social media. 

Lead author Lui yi Lin provided a few reasons why social media could cause depression in young people:

  • Exposure to highly idealized representations of peers on social media elicits feelings of envy and the distorted belief that others lead happier, more successful lives.
  • Engaging in activities of little meaning on social media may give a feeling of "time wasted" that negatively influences mood.
  • Social media use could be fueling "Internet addiction," a proposed psychiatric condition closely associated with depression.
  • Spending more time on social media may increase the risk of exposure to cyber-bullying or other similar negative interactions, which can cause feelings of depression.

However, Lin said the cause and effect may not be as straightforward as it seems: "It may be that people who already are depressed are turning to social media to fill a void." 

It may be that people who already are depressed are turning to social media to fill a void.

The study's authors hope clinicians treating young adults for depression discuss social media use. Brian Primack, senior author and director of the Pitt Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health, said, "Our hope is that continued research will allow such efforts to be refined so that they better reach those in need."

Even while it has opened doors to communication in unprecedented ways, there's no question that social media has complicated the experience of being a young adult. Last December, Redditors reminisced about growing up before the Internet and admitted that living under a microscope would have negatively impacted them. 

Lin did not immediately respond to NTRSCTN's request for comment.