Despite ominous warnings about “Facebook Depression,” an allegedly new mental illness of depression and anxiety caused by overuse of social media, a new level-headed scientific study reveals that social networks have not made 27% of teenagers chronically depressed. Researchers Lauren Jelenchick and Dr. Megan Moreno concluded that there was no association between feeling blue and Facebook use — even heavy facebook use — contradicting last year’s Academy of Pediatrics report warning parents to monitor their children’s social networking activity. “Our study is the first to present scientific evidence on the suggested link between social-media use and risk of depression,” said Jelenchick. The new findings are an important lesson to carefully review unscientific claims before freaking out.
The study randomly sent SMS survey questions to 190 University of Wisconsin students, asking them about their mental state, if they were online, and what they were doing. Even though students reported being on Facebook over half the time they spent online, depression screening results were not associated with social network use, no matter how much time they spent online. If fact, it would have been shocking had the study found any correlation, since roughly 1/3rd of teenagers check Facebook continuously throughout the day, yet there has been no epidemic of mental health issues since Facebook burst on the scene a few years ago.
Even though the implications of so-called “Facebook Depression” seemed to contradict a quick reality check, it didn’t stop the American Academy of Pediatrics from scaring news outlets into reporting its existance. “As with offline depression, preadolescents and adoles- cents who suffer from Facebook depression are at risk for social isolation and sometimes turn to risky Internet sites and blogs for “help” that may promote substance abuse, unsafe sexual practices, or aggressive or self-destructive behaviors,” read the official report. Yet a quick look at the citations reveals only one actual scientific paper, which discovered an association between online chatting about relationships and anxiety.
After Larry Magid questioned the author, she admitted that Facebook depression likely only affects a small group of children already headed towards clinical depression. “Maybe we’re misnaming it,” she said.