Social media, not video games, linked to increase in teen depression

Researchers with CHU Sainte-Justine in Quebec have published a study shedding light on digital entertainment and how it may impact depression during one's teenage years. The results, which were recently published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, point toward social media and television as driving depression in teens, but the same outcome wasn't observed in association with another popular digital activity.

The study involved around 4,000 teenagers in Canada who reported on the number of hours they spending playing video games, participating on social media, watching television, and using computers. Over the course of the four-year study, researchers found that some of these digital activities may make depression symptoms worse in teens.

Frequently using social media and watching TV were both associated with more severe depression symptoms, including feeling worthless, thinking about death, and having a low mood. It seems an increase in these symptoms followed increased time spent on social media and watching TV, an effect that wasn't observed when it came greater than average time spent playing video games or using a computer.

Though the researchers didn't find lack of physical activity from heavy social media and TV as a contributing factor, they did note that what the teens watched had an impact on depression symptoms; the frequency with which teens were exposed to these entertainment mediums also had an impact.

For example, watching or browsing content that resulted in teens comparing themselves to other people resulted in lower self-esteem, reinforcing depression in teens who already suffered from it. This may explain why using a computer and playing video games didn't have the same impact on depression — neither typically involve activities that expose teens to 'fear of missing out' or feelings of insecurity about oneself in comparison to others.