Technology and Media | Consumer Fraud Protection

Does Social Media Cause Depression?

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Research has shown that heavy social media use in young people is associated with numerous mental health problems. But does social media cause depression? The research suggests that the short answer is, yes, social media is linked to depression.

Can social media cause depression?

Scientific studies and social media companies’ internal research point toward social media use creating and increasing depression. The potentially dangerous impact of social media apps may be felt most acutely among young people.

Consider the following statistics:

  1. Adolescent depression: A survey of American high school students found that more than one in three couldn’t participate in regular activities because of “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.” 
  2. Constant social media use among young people: While a majority of teens use social media platforms daily, the Pew Research Center found that more than one in three reported being “on at least one [social media app] almost constantly.” The survey found that the most frequently used social media apps/sites among adolescents include YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook.
  3. Social media as the culprit: A survey of young people found respondents overwhelmingly believed that social media is the driving force behind declining mental well-being among young people.

Emerging science seems to clarify the effects of social media on kids, teens and young adults.

How does social media cause depression?

There are several potential ways social networks may cause depression in young people.

  • FOMO: FOMO, or fear of missing out, may be increased for young people who use social media. According to one experimental study, people who don’t limit or monitor their social media use may be more likely to experience depression, loneliness and anxiety.
  • Sleep deprivation: Research has shown a clear association between sleep deprivation and depression for teens. Young people who forgo sleep at night to use social media because of FOMO may be more likely to develop or worsen a major depressive disorder.
  • Social comparison: Around the time kids become pre-teens, their brains change in ways that make social interaction—in both attention and approval—more important to their well-being. One study found that “technology-based social comparison and feedback-seeking were associated with depressive symptoms.” This impact was stronger for girls and teens who described themselves as unpopular.

Do social media companies know why social media causes depression?

Social media companies do research on their users to understand how to keep them engaged and active on their platforms. The design of social media platforms—including the user interface, product features, and recommendation architecture are built to be habit forming, much like slot machines in a casino. Based on whistleblower documents, it is apparent that social media companies design their algorithms to keep kids engaged despite knowing that their platforms were having a negative impact on teen mental health.

What Meta knows about depression due to social media

Leaks of internal research done by analysts at Meta—the parent company of Facebook and Instagram—suggest a substantial negative effect on young people’s psychological well-being. According to these documents, internal researchers looking at Instagram’s potential harm found that teens' self-esteem and body image decreased as they compared themselves to others on the app. They observed that this could cause depression and anxiety, while also leaving them vulnerable to harmful content they might encounter online.

Internal documents suggest that Meta’s researchers believed that the following mental health conditions could be made worse by their platform:

  • Body dissatisfaction
  • Body dysmorphia
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Loneliness

It’s possible that additional information about what social media companies knew about the impact of their platforms will come out as parents file social media lawsuits.

Contact a social media mental health attorney

Motley Rice represents young people and families that allege multiple social media platforms intentionally and deliberately designed their social media apps without regard for the safety of children.

Our thoughts go out to those affected by suicide, self-harm and eating disorders worsened by social media.

Call Attorney Jonathan Orent at 1.800.768.4026 or complete this form to explore your options.

Symptoms of depression for parents to be aware of

If you’re a parent who is concerned about the mental well-being of a teen, here are some signs of depression to watch for:

  • Angry outbursts
  • Anxiety
  • Fluctuations in weight, either loss or gain
  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies or sports
  • Persistent feelings of sadness, emptiness or hopelessness
  • Repeated suicidal ideation or a fixation on death
  • Sleep issues
  • Trouble concentrating or remembering things

If you believe your child may be experiencing depression, it is important to seek medical intervention. A doctor may be able to work with you to identify the cause or factors that may worsen depression, such as social media usage.

If you or a loved one is struggling with suicide ideation, know that free, confidential support is available 24/7 through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline if you call 988. Visit the Lifeline online at https://988lifeline.org/.

Our experience helping families stand against tech companies

Motley Rice attorneys have worked for decades fighting for families and people. Our experience includes representing people who sue tech companies because of harm they’ve suffered.

Your well-being is important to our team. Please contact us if you or your child attempted or died by suicide, was treated for self-harm, or got a professional healthcare diagnosis of a mental health disorder you believe was worsened by social media. We can help you file a lawsuit for social media harm.

Read more about filing a social media lawsuit.

Sources
  1. American Psychological Association. Why young brains are especially vulnerable to social media.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Data Summary & Trends Report: 2009-2019.
  3. Headspace. National youth mental health survey 2018.
  4. Hunt, M. Marx, R., Lipson, C., Young, J. No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. 2018 Dec.;37(10):751–768.
  5. Nesi, J., Prinstein, M. Using Social Media for Social Comparison and Feedback-Seeking: Gender and Popularity Moderate Associations with Depressive Symptoms. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. 2015 April 23;43:1427-1438.
  6. Pew Research Center. Teens, Social Media and Technology 2022.
  7. Riehm, K., Feder, K., Tormohlen, K., et al. Associations Between Time Spent Using Social Media and Internalizing and Externalizing Problems Among US Youth. JAMA Psychiatry. 2019 Sept. 11;76(12):1266-1273.
  8. Roberts, R., Doung, H. The Prospective Association between Sleep Deprivation an Depression among Adolescents. Sleep. 2014 Feb. 1;37(2):239-244.