Facebook sabbatical for mental health? This study says 'maybe'

A growing number of studies have found that social media use may negatively impact the user's mental health, and a new study out of Stanford University and New York University is no exception. The research looked at hundreds of Facebook users who were willing to ditch the service for a full month, finding that their overall social media use decreased and their self-reported well-being increased.

A total of 2,488 Facebook users participated in the study — they averaged an hour per day on the social network and were evaluated for their "willingness to accept" deactivating their account for four weeks. Some volunteers were assigned the task of deactivating their account, while the others remained in a control group.

During this period of time, the participants self-reported their well-being, including senses of loneliness and happiness. The conclusion isn't terribly surprising, though it's not all bad news: Facebook has a positive role to play in users' lives, but can also come with some big downsides.

Benefits include increasing one's ability to find news, as well as providing entertainment, group participation, and socialization for isolated individuals, among other things. However, the study also found that users who left Facebook for four weeks reported improved well-being.

The deactivated users were less informed about news topics, but the researchers also found that, in some cases at least, they were also less polarized in their opinions. As well, overall social media use by these individuals decreased during the four weeks, and researchers noted that these participants decreased their use of Facebook upon returning to the service.

Ultimately, the researchers concluded: "The estimated magnitudes imply that these negative effects are large enough to be real concerns, but also smaller in many cases than what one might have expected given prior research and popular discussion."

At least based on this data, it would seem that Facebook offers some real benefits to users, but that those users may want to moderate how often they use the service.