a man holding a smart phone in his hand.

Are Social Media and Depression Linked? Here’s What We Know.

Amber Murphy

Being a fully functioning person in the twenty-first century involves using one or more social media platforms. And with more than half of the world’s population (around 3.9 billion people) using social media, there’s no doubt that it has a tremendous impact on our societies. But depression also affects a large number of people, over 264 million people. So, are social media and depression linked? Let’s take a closer look.

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Benefits of Social Media

Social media is incredibly beneficial for individuals and businesses; we all know that. Here’s a quick list of some of the positive aspects of social media.

1. It connects us when we’re physically far away

You can connect with any friends and family globally via social media, and it’s not just chat-based anymore. You can start a video chat with loved ones to check in on them to see how they’re doing and catch up with ease.

2. Brands get to interact better with their customers

With globalization, small businesses can compete with big-box retailers, allowing them to reach a global audience. You can easily support a mom-and-pop shop from anywhere in the world, giving small businesses a chance to thrive. You can even contact any company on their social media account to get a faster customer service response.

3. You have real-time information

With a quick social search, you can find live reactions to your favorite shows and events. You can also learn critical news information from famous deaths to historical moments in history. Social media allows you to get the latest information quickly.

4. It’s good for networking

Using social media, you can find and connect with nearly every person with an account. You can network with like-minded individuals or join social groups based on your favorite hobbies and interests. It’s easy to meet new people, find good friends, and even meet your future spouse.

Even though social media has many benefits, does our hyperconnected world have consequences on our mental health? Well, it does. It turns out that the link between social media and depression is not a myth but a reality we need to address. Not everything on the internet is good, and in some cases, it might cause more harm than good. By the end of this article, you might begin to consider a social media detox to help you overcome the link between social media and depression.

benefits of social media

Why Do We Even Use Social Media in the First Place

As innocent as it may seem, scrolling through your favorite social app is very addictive. A study from Harvard University found that social media activates the same parts of the brain that light up when taking addictive substances.

Founders of social media sites design their platforms to be addictive. The likes, the notifications, the comments, and the tweets are an easy dopamine boost on the brain. That’s why we come back, even when it can be damaging to us, because our brain loves instant gratification.

How Can Social Media Harm Us?

Ok, so now we know that social media is as addictive as drugs, but how can that lead to depression? Well, it’s complex. But several studies have tried to determine if there is any connection between social media and depression.

There’s a 2018 study that establishes a correlation between the excessive use of social media and depression. Here, someone determined that spending too much time on these platforms leads to more significant depression, irritability, social envy, and loneliness. And cutting time from these apps has the opposite effect: happier lives and fewer negative emotions.

Depressed individuals with social media addiction tend to feel less energy and spend less time in the real world. These platforms distract them from real-life experiences and provide them enough dopamine to keep them engaged. What isn’t clear is if these individuals are depressed because they spend too much time on their phones or the other way around. Still, there is a link between social media and depression. Depressed individuals may benefit from cutting time from their phones.

Ultimately, depression is a thought disorder. Many people who experience depression are living in the past instead of the present. When it comes to social media, most people begin mindlessly scrolling through their posts. Don’t underestimate the power of encouraging people to live in the present moment. The present moment is free of the pain of the past and the anxiety of the future.

social media and depression

1. The Rise of FOMO

The fear of missing out (FOMO) plays a significant role in why we can’t help checking our Instagram feed. We fear missing out on news, events, jokes, or activities that happen online, so we keep coming back to stay informed.

But FOMO can cause depression and feelings of isolation. A friend posting pictures at a party without us can make us feel rejected and lonely.

Another common thing is checking out an ex-partner’s profile page. Seeing them with someone else can trigger FOMO and make you nostalgic for the relationship.

Ultimately though, most people don’t realize that people look at your posts the same way. Someone might see a picture of you being happy and feel sad that you’re happy without them. So, it’s not something that only happens to you but to everyone who uses social media.

2. Social comparison

With social media, now it’s easier than ever to know what our friends and family members are doing. Paradoxically, this can increase our feelings of loneliness and social comparison.

Keeping up with our network of friends, family, and coworkers makes us compare our lives with theirs. Seeing a friend’s vacation or the fancy house of a celebrity can make us feel like we’re not achieving as much in the world. We may even have a feeling that we’re falling behind.

Even posting something on social media that doesn’t get a ton of likes, shares, or followers can trigger negative emotions. We may fear that we’re not well valued.

Instagram surprised us by removing likes from other people’s publications to reduce envy and social comparison. It might be a small step, but it’s a step in the right direction to help combat the link between social media and depression.

social comparison

3. Doomscrolling

Doomscrolling is the act of actively scrolling through sad and depressing news. Yeah, that’s a thing. It happens because our brain loves hearing tragic events, even when we know it makes us sad. Why? Because our ancestors survived thanks to their ability to recognize possible threats around them. Staying informed and fearing for the worst is what kept us alive for centuries.

But we’re no longer living in caves, and the excessive use of social media can make us engage in doomscrolling, which means having feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, depression, and isolation.

Social media and depression link up when doomscrolling becomes a habit of the typical social media user.

4. Cyberbulling and Teens

Bullying is no longer something you hear about in school. It has moved to the digital space. And according to one study, around 59% of teens claim to have suffered cyberbullying. Teens are exposed more than ever to these harmful interactions that can present themselves in different ways, such as hurtful comments, group exclusions, and sexual harassment.

Teens are especially vulnerable to these interactions. And if we add the fact that they’re constantly comparing their lives with others, we can get depressed teens who feel excluded and have low self-esteem.

Keep in mind, though, that every age group is vulnerable to cyberbullying these days. Those in public roles, such as entrepreneurs, politicians, activists, etc., can be subjected to cyberbullying for their beliefs and values.

Signs Social Media Affects Mental Health

If you want to know if you have social media addiction or if it’s affecting your mood, we’ll help you out. Here are some of the signs that social media is affecting you negatively:

1. You feel worse about your body

A study found that some people, especially women, felt worse about how their bodies looked right after watching profiles with women that meet traditional beauty standards. Body dysmorphia may be experienced by those active on social media.

There’s a constant pressure to check your notifications and receive positive feedback
Between 5 to 10% of Americans are addicted to social media and have a constant desire to check how many likes they can get. One study found that 37% of teens feel pressure to get likes. It often becomes a competition for who can get the most likes. However, this isn’t a healthy link between social media and depression, even if you get tons of engagement on your posts.

2. You feel drained and overwhelmed

The internet can sometimes look like a warzone. Internet arguments, sad news, and people with extreme opinions go viral all the time. Many people feel anxious and drained after checking their phones. And even 45% of teens feel overwhelmed by online drama.

3. You feel social envy

If you’re turning off your screen with a bitter taste in your mouth after seeing what your friends are doing, maybe it’s time to back off from there. Social media and envy are linked. However, when most people post something on social media, they typically don’t do it to get back at you.

4. It blocks your sleep patterns

One study discovered a link between poor sleep and social media. And we also know that not sleeping enough will affect your concentration levels, alertness, and overall mood. Aside from that, artificial light (like the one from our phone screen) can affect your natural sleep cycle, so it’s best to quit the screens at least thirty minutes before bed. That way, you can go to sleep and wake up naturally in the morning.

How to Use Social Media Correctly

There are safe ways in which you can use social media without dealing with adverse effects like depression. Some researchers believe that as long as you don’t engage emotionally on social media, you’ll do great. Here are some other suggestions you could try.

1. Establish a limit on your social media usage

For some people (due to work or school), it’s impossible to quit social media. But while you don’t need to eradicate every account, you can at least limit your time on them.

Set a counter or install an app that controls your time spent online, and you’ll do better. The average adult in the U.S. spends around 2-4 hours every day on their phone. However, 30 minutes should be enough for you to check your notifications and social media.

One way to stop using social media is to do something else. Read a book, call a friend, watch a movie, focus on your hobby or do anything that prevents you from grabbing your phone. Real-life will give you richer and more meaningful experiences.

2. Keep a positive mindset

Sometimes you can’t help to do doomscrolling. When you find yourself doing it, try to remember that negative news will set your alarms and drag your attention, but this shouldn’t disturb your inner peace.

Try to remember that the happiest news won’t become as viral or won’t reach the headlines of most newspapers. Also, remember that there are happy news sites that you can visit to find positive stories online.

3. Take advantage of social media

Everything’s not dark and dangerous; social media can be a rewarding place when you use it right.

Users who engage in their friend’s post, leave comments, and have one-on-one chats with their friends report feeling better than those who only scroll without interacting.


Just like everything, social media has both good and bad effects on us. Its goal is to keep us hooked at the expense of our time. We’re just one tap away from beautiful models, fancy homes, rude comments, sad events, and other things that link social media and depression.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Knowing about its harmful effects can help us tackle the issue. Consider a social media detox and spend more time on the outside world. If you engage more with your friends and family through social media, you’ll be reducing your risk of developing anxiety and depression. There’s always help available to quit addictions and treat symptoms of depression.

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