We know the effects of social media, especially Facebook, on teens and how it has an effect on their mental well-being. There is scientific evidence that suggests these platforms have an effect on our social-esteem, biology and overall psyche.
Now, public health researchers report that teens who have negative experiences on Facebook — including bullying, meanness, misunderstandings or unwanted contacts — are at significantly higher risk of depression.
So, what’s new about the study, you ask?
The study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, is novel in at least two important ways, the authors contend.
One is measurement of the prevalence, frequency, severity and nature of negative interpersonal experiences, as reported by the 264 participants. The other is that the researchers knew how participants were faring in 2002, before the advent of Facebook.
Stephen Buka, professor of epidemiology at Brown and study co-author, says:
This as close as you can get to answering the question: Do adverse experiences [on Facebook] cause depression?” Buka said. “We knew how the participants were doing as kids before they had any Facebook use, then we saw what happened on Facebook, and then we saw how they were faring as young adults. It permits us to answer the chicken-and-egg problem: Which comes first — adverse experiences on Facebook or depression, low self-esteem and the like?
Facebook and depression
One of the study’s most basic findings is that 82 per cent of the 264 participants reported having at least one negative Facebook experience (NFE) since they started using the service. Among the participants, 63 per cent said they had four or more NFEs during their young lifetimes.
To determine the risk of depressive symptoms independently attributable to NFEs, the researchers in their statistical analysis controlled for depression as adolescents, parental mental health, sex, race or ethnicity, reported social support, daily Facebook use, average monthly income, educational attainment and employment.
And, they found that among people who experienced any NFEs, the overall risk of depressive symptoms was about 3.2 times greater than among those who had not.
Here’s another important aspect of the study. Bullying or meanness was associated with a 3.5 times elevated risk, while unwanted contact had a milder association of about 2.5 times.
So, what do the authors suggest to overcome the problem?
It may be prudent for teens and young adults to recognize that NFEs could lead to prolonged symptoms of depression and that if they have negative emotions related to Facebook experiences, it might be worthwhile to take a break. Another strategy might be to unfriend people who are becoming sources of NFEs, they say.