The Evolving Link between Social Media Addiction and Depression in Young Adults

The Evolving Link between Social Media Addiction and Depression in Young Adults

Recently, in the journal Pediatrics, Elizabeth Hoge, MD, David Bickham, PhD and Joanne Cantor, PhD outlined recent evidence that the social media addiction breeds and catalyzes anxiety and depression in children.

In the US some teens spend about nine hours daily using media, whereas 24 percent of teenagers are online constantly, and 59% of children are using social networking websites by the age of ten.

Receiving likes on social media has been linked to the brain’s reward system and the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Thus, a recent Australian consumers’ study classifies social media usage as a dopamine gold mine. “Every time we post, share, ‘like’, comment or send an invitation online, we are creating an expectation”, according to this study.

New research also suggests that the Facebook (FB) addiction ‘activates same part of the brain as cocaine’. Also, a study by the Chicago University’s Booth Business School indicates that the addiction of Tweeting or checking emails may be stronger than addiction to cigarettes and alcohol. As per Ingrid Lam and Abby Fritz, quoting Eghosa Obaiza the desire for validation is an endless pursuit that makes a victim of any teenager. “This constant need for other’s validation, minimizes our ability to be confident in ourselves,” said Obaiza.

Major depression is a common but serious mood disorder, where both neuroendocrine and immune dysfunctions play a major role. These dysfunctions contribute to the establishment of a chronic low-grade inflammation, where various neurohormonal factors along with the effects of pro-inflammatory cytokines drive the most serious health risks of depression – obesity and cardiovascular diseases.

Several recent studies indicate a clear link between the social media craze and depression in children. A study in the June 2017 issue of Social Science & Medicine reports that 44% of the U.S. young adults experience problematic social media use (PSMU), whereas the “PSMU is strongly and independently associated with depressive symptoms”. Another study in the Journal of Adolescent Health suggested that “there is a clear association between negative FB experience and depressive symptoms”, while a study in the journal Depression and Anxiety concluded: “SM use was significantly associated with increased depression.”

In the Pediatrics review Elizabeth Hoge, David Bickham and Joanne Cantor argue that the Internet overuse is associated with having greater difficulties in emotion regulation. Thus, anxiety may result from lack of emotion-regulation skills because of substituted digital media use.

Furthermore, the authors discuss the relevance of the digital media overuse to ‘social anxiety disorder’ – psychiatric illness characterized by fear of embarrassment or humiliation, leading to the avoidance of social situations.

As per recent research “the options of texting, instant messaging, and emailing have become preferred by some individuals over face-to face interactions for some types of contact”.‍ This, in fact, may increase the risk of developing social anxiety disorder, and some subjects “opting to substitute digital media for interpersonal communication to avoid feared situations may become cyclically reinforced over time, making the person even more avoidant”.

Interestingly, as the use of texting, instant messaging, e-mailing has become a primary method of communication for a majority of young adults – the interrupting of this type of communication can further up-regulate the levels of anxiety. The tendency to be constantly connected to social networks is another factor that drives anxiety.

More alarming trend, as per the authors is that the social media addiction is associated with a prevalence of cyberbullying among adolescents, which falls between 11% and 48%, depending on the definition of cyberbullying, group demographics, and the reporting time frame. Importantly, individuals being subject to cyberbullying are at increased risk for a wide range of mental and physical health problems.

The authors quote research indicating that Internet use in general and “the specific experience of being a victim of cyberbullying are both associated with more suicidal thoughts and self-injurious behaviors”.

Source: Pediatrics. 2017, 140 (Suppl 2):S76-S80. doi: 10.1542/peds.2016-1758G.
Read more: Pediatrics


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