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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