Spending more than 3 hours each day on social media was associated with an increased risk for mental health problems – especially internalizing problems – among teenagers, according to findings published in JAMA Psychiatry.
Prior research has suggested that increases in the prevalence of major depression among teenagers in the U.S. may be attributable to rapid increases in social media use, Kira E. Riehm, MS, from the department of mental health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and colleagues wrote.
“However, evidence of this association in nationally representative samples is scarce, and little is known about whether reducing time spent on social media might influence the prevalence of mental health problems at a national level,” they wrote.
Riehm and colleagues conducted a longitudinal cohort study to determine whether time spent on social media each day was prospectively associated with internalizing and externalizing issues among 6,595 teenagers from September 2013 to October 2016.
Participants reported time spent using social media in a typical day as none, 30 or less minutes, 30 minutes to 3 hours, 3 hours to 6 hours, and more than 6 hours during the second wave of the study (Oct. 23, 2014 to Oct. 30, 2015). Researchers measured self-reported past-year internalizing problems alone, externalizing problems alone and comorbid internalizing and externalizing problems during the third wave (Oct. 18, 2015 to Oct. 23, 2016) via the Global Appraisal of Individual Needs–Short Screener.
Unadjusted analyses revealed that compared with no social media use, spending more than 30 minutes on social media was linked to an increased risk for both internalizing problems alone as well as comorbid internalizing and externalizing problems. Teenagers who spent more than 6 hours on social media were at the highest risk for internalizing problems alone (relative risk ratio [RRR] = 2.83; 95% CI, 1.88-4.26) and comorbid internalizing/externalizing problems (RRR = 4.29; 95% CI, 3.22-5.73), according to the results.
Adjusted analyses revealed that compared with no social media use, using social media for more than 3 hours each day remained significantly linked to internalizing problems alone (3 to 6 hours: RRR = 1.6 [95% CI, 1.11-2.31]; more than 6 hours: RRR = 1.78 [95% CI, 1.15-2.77]) as well as comorbid internalizing/externalizing problems (3 to 6 hours: RRR = 2.01 [95% CI, 1.51-2.66]; more than 6 hours: RRR = 2.44 [95% CI, 1.73-3.43]), but not externalizing problems alone.
“Future research should determine whether setting limits on daily social media use, increasing media literacy, and redesigning social media platforms are effective means of reducing the burden of mental health problems in this population,” Riehm and colleagues wrote. – by Savannah Demko
Disclosure: Riehm reports no relevant financial disclosures. Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.