Links between Depression, Anxiety, and Social Media Usage

Young adults today live in a world that is very different from the one in which their parents lived. Social media, a primary form of communication for young people, did not exist in previous decades. Interactions with peers, friends, and romantic partners took place mainly in person. Researchers who studied the influences and effects of depression and anxiety on relationship behaviors could gather information from first-person experiences. However, in this virtual world of Facebook and Twitter, social media outlets can provide clues that help explain the cause and effect of mood symptoms.

Brian A. Feinstein of the Department of Psychology at Stony Brook University in New York recently led a study that examined how young adults’ levels of depressive or anxious symptoms impacted their social media usage. He also looked at how the usage of social media affected the symptoms of depression and anxiety in the same sample of 301 young adults over a period of 3 weeks. Feinstein found that social media usage was not directly affected by increases in either anxious or depressive symptoms. But increases in depression did result in negative social media experiences, which led to decreases in positive affect. Additionally, participants with symptoms of depression at week 1 were more likely to have bad relationship interactions with their loved ones and friends at week 3 than participants with no depressive symptoms.

The study revealed different results for the participants with anxiety. Specifically, increases in social anxiety did not lead to maladaptive social media usage but did increase feelings of general anxiety pertaining to relationships with loved ones. These findings suggest that individuals deal with the social and relational stress of anxiety differently than they do with the stress resulting from depression. Feinstein believes these findings could help clinicians better address the symptoms and severity of these mental health problems by focusing on the type of social media and interpersonal interactions following illness symptom onset. He added, “Given that this is the first study to examine whether psychological problems influence the quality of social networking experiences, it will be important for future studies to continue to examine this phenomenon.”

Feinstein, B. A., Bhatia, V., Hershenberg, R., Davila, J. (2012). Another venue for problematic interpersonal behavior: The effects of depressive and anxious symptoms on social networking experiences. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 31.4, 356-382.

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  • Duncan


    May 9th, 2012 at 3:49 PM

    It’s not that I worry so much about social media as an entity but I do worry about the ways that more and more kids seem to be using it. They use it to not just hook uo with their friends and stay in touch, but they also use it to bully other kids that they may not be friends with. And when that kind of stuff starts and catches on, its’ not just one person participating but a whole group of “friends”. Now tell me how being in the midst of that is going to do anything positive for these kids. We know that it isn’t. We can’t stop that worls of social media, but you might want to gove a little more thought to how much we let our kids be a part of it.

  • Jane


    May 10th, 2012 at 4:11 AM

    I have often thought that facebook and other forms of social media, even texting, is going to cause us to forget how to communicate with ral live people. How many people do you know who send letters anymore? Younger kids won’t even email anymore! They have left that for us old folks. For them it’s all facebook and face time, and twitter. Nothing that forces you to have real conversations or to talk beyond funny or sad emoticons. I won’t go all English professor and profess it to be the end of society but it has made some significant changes to the way we share information with one another and I am not always certain that it has been in a totally good way.

  • Charlie


    May 10th, 2012 at 3:15 PM

    I’ve met up with so many old friends and made new friends via social media, including anxiety forums.I do have the benefit of being slightly older (was early 20’s when i signed up to Myspace etc). I think it must be more challenging for some younger people and for people going through bad times. However, it has really come at a good tome for me, socially. I can say in terms of the opposite sex, it hasn’t been such a rewarding experience.

  • ric


    May 10th, 2012 at 3:19 PM

    honestly, if it causes this much stress, then why do some people continue to do it?

  • Darla


    May 11th, 2012 at 4:23 AM

    Ric, I have to say that alot of friends I have are finding it more and more difficult to just disconnect from this kind of socializing. Everyone is doing it so they feel the need to do it too. Sometimes just cutting it off is a whole lot easier said than done.

  • Fletcher


    May 12th, 2012 at 12:04 AM

    I’m so happy I’m not on these social networking sites.I see so many friends clicking pictures just to put it up on their profile,others getting into crazy things just for that five minutes of fame online,its all so crazy!

    Just wanna tell these people one thing-If you had put in so much effort into your real world lives then maybe you could have been far ahead of wherever you are now.

    No offence but doing all this is just a waste of so much time and effort.Not only that but these social networking sites are denting relationships and friendships.But then Vanity…never ceases to get people to do things!

  • Everett


    May 12th, 2012 at 4:36 AM

    We have to learn to adapt to the world in which we live. Don’t you think that the parents of the kids on the 1950s worried about the same things? That they didn’t have that darn rock n roll music to corrupt them when they were growing up? It is all relative and sometimes you have to roll with the times. I know that things have definitely changes for kids growing up today. Heck they have changed for adults too. But those aren’t things that we can run away and hide from. We have to adapt or otherwise it can feel like a pretty intimidating place. That’s not the kinds of feelings that I want my kids to have from a young age. I want to give them the confidence that they can handle what comes their way.

  • kari-anne


    May 14th, 2012 at 3:18 PM

    What about all of this new info that facebook could actually cause depression> I hardly think that it is a good thing to justge yourself up against friends on facebook, you never know if they are just making stuff up or what

  • Tim


    May 31st, 2012 at 1:56 PM

    preventing your children from using facebook because of cyberbullying is like keeping them away from guns and thinking that’ll make them immortal.

    it’s the same social phenomenon, you’re just better able to monitor it and discover it online than you are when it happens on a playground and your child doesn’t tell you about it.

    as for Facebook causing depression; reaad that study carefully. it doesn’t cause Clinical Depression.

    many users report “feeling stressed” or “anxious” or “having a lower mood” after using facebook, particularly overusing facebook. these are NOT the same thing as clinical depression, which is very much distinct from sadness.

    a little bit of sadness or stress from facebook is not a serious problem, whereas depression is, hence why so many news reports choose a headline “causes depression” and spread the actual information out through the article when these studies come out. it’s also worth noting that incidence rates of “anxiety” in one study, for example, were 12% – barely high enough to be significant, let alone to represent a general risk.

  • John


    July 29th, 2012 at 10:17 AM

    I recently realized that a girl I hurt (emotionally) in college has been mocking me indirectly on Facebook. Honestly, I have always felt bad about this and have been trying to apologize to her for the past 4 months. So I took her to a pro hockey game after asking her to it on that social media site and she took it to her advantage, by humiliating me after the game in front of her friends thinking I didn’t know what she was saying. Even more recently she started to post things mocking my family photos. I know this sounds like something out of a Stephen king novel but I’m not crazy. After I figured all this out I immediately deleted my Facebook account. But honestly I’m having a very hard time dealing with all this

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