Mental Health and Social Media Use

Recently, I teamed up with Charles from Clearvue Health because he is genuinely great at visualizing medical data and I wanted to research the link between social media and mental health. He provided me some amazing visualizations which I would gladly share with you! And check out his awesome blog or his Instagram (@clearvuehealth)!

Ever since starting my Instagram Account, I’ve been wondering what effects excessive usage of social media might have on the mental health of the user. I’ve heard of the famous “Fear of Missing Out”, short FOMO, and a tendency to take one’s opinion more serious as it actually is. But what’s the evidence? So I did some research.

In his literature review, Pantic (2014) identifies three major areas of impact social media can have on individuals which are symptoms of depression, self-esteem and online social network addiction. For once, he reports a positive correlation between depressive symptoms and time spent on social networking sites (SNS). This is reassured by a study conducted by Lin et al. (2016), who found significantly increased odds of depression for individuals with higher social media site visits per week and a higher global frequency. On the other hand, Pantic describes the association of online communication with friends and family with a decline in depression. It seems like the manner in which we use social media makes the difference on the impact SNS can have on our mental health. This is also reflected in the statement of the UK Mental Health Foundation (2017), pointing out the “potential uses of online technologies to help address mental health where traditional methods have been unable to”. SNS can be established as support and a resource, if used accordingly.

A big discussion revolves around the time spent on SNS. Popular Science publications have one point in common: they all emphasize that the question about mental health issues and social media usage is a chicken or egg question. Whether time spent on SNS induces depressive symptoms or individuals with depressive predispositions use SNS more frequent and react to these sites different is still unknown. Only true experimental studies can give answers on these questions.

One of them is the study carried out at the University of Pennsylvania by the group around Hunt, Marx, Lipson, and Young (2018) with 140 undergraduate students. Not only did they find in their baseline that the estimated and the actual time spent on SNS differs greatly, they also asked the participants in the experimental group to limit their time spent on SNS to 10 minutes a day per social media app. Surprisingly, the experimental as well as the control group reported less fear of missing out and less anxiety after the three weeks of the intervention, which the authors explained with the benefit of increased self-monitoring, even without actually limiting the time spent on social media. For the experimental group they also found a decrease in loneliness and depression, in particular for those individuals with higher predispositions. An explanation for this decrease can be found in the decrease of social comparison over SNS due to less time spent on social media.

There is no one-shoe-fits-all solution to the matter. A purposeful, timely limited usage of social media might even be helpful for mental health, but time limits do not replace mindful reflection of the usage. So next time you feel like Facebook or Instagram is pulling you down, ask yourself: do you really need this? Is it really that important or could you limit your time spent on those sites? Maybe even take some time off, enjoy the analog world, and reconnect with friends and family. At least that’s what I’ll do.


Hunt, M. G., Marx, R., Lipson, C., & Young, J. (2018). No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 37(10), 751–768.

Lin, L. Y., Sidani, J. E., Shensa, A., Radovic, A., Miller, E., Colditz, J. B., . . . Primack, B. A. (2016). Association between Social Media Use and Depression among U.S. Young Adults. Depression and Anxiety, 33(4), 323–331.

Mental Health Foundation. (2017). Social Media: good or bad for mental health? Retrieved from Pantic, I. (2014). Online social networking and mental health. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 17(10), 652–657.

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