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Social network sites and effects on mental health in adults

In a recent study, the link between the use of social network sites and mental health outcomes in adult individuals was explored.

With the advent of information and communication technologies, there has been an increase in studies largely focusing on their impact on mental health. There have been connections made between these technologies and anxiety or depression. As in many studies, there are limitations to these conclusions, including the fact that results from a laboratory may not be what you would see in real life. In fact, some studies include only teens and students who are currently in university and may be facing major life changes and stressors, which may not necessarily represent the general population. Some studies may also imply a link between social network sites and mental health, but this does not mean that the link is causal.

In a recent study, researchers sought to determine whether psychological distress reduces with the increased use of information and communication technology and if relationships through social media affect the psychological distress of adult individuals in the U.S. This study was published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. The data used in this study came from the U.S Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), the longest-running survey in the world. There were 5129 participants in this study. Using 2015 and 2016 data, the relationship between psychological distress and social media was modeled. Note that this study used survey information, so a causal relationship between these factors is not absolute. Social network sites may refer to the use of many different types of technology and cannot be limited to any one device or platform.

The study found a link between reduced psychological distress and the use of the Internet or social network sites. This relationship did not seem to be present with email, texting, or mobile Internet usage frequency. Among other results, the model suggests that if a person has extended family also using social network sites, they will not be negatively influenced by social networks – this remained true as long as the psychological state of the family member did not change. In addition, psychological distress in the individual seems to actually reduce if an extended family member uses the Internet as well. In this situation, the extended family member’s level of distress does not seem to affect the individual Internet user. Having extended family on the internet may provide additional social support, therefore potentially explaining this decline in psychological distress.

Unlike previous studies in the field, this study suggests that, in adult U.S individuals, there is no relationship between the use of information technologies (and social media) and increased psychological distress. There actually seems to be a positive link between the use of social network sites and mental health in some cases.

Written by Olajumoke Marissa Ologundudu, B.Sc. (Hons)


Reference: Hampton KN. Social Media and Change in Psychological Distress Over Time: The Role of Social Causation. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. 2019; 00: 1–18. doi:

Image by Jess Foami from Pixabay




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