Facebook is the most popular social media platform with nearly 68 percent of US adults on the site, according to the Pew Research Center. Some experts link the time spend online may link to symptoms of depression.
“I know that it’s a problem for my younger sisters that are in high school,” said Tessa Perez, a biology major at the University of Kansas. “I can say that it definitely leads to depression for one of them. It’s just some of the things people are willing to say on social media sites, so I can see how it would have an effect on mental state in some people.”
Nearly 76 percent of Americans use the site on a daily basis, according to the Pew Research Center. A number of studies link social media usage to a decreased mental state, but all are on a correlative basis. That correlation does not equal causation, according to University psychology director Dr. Alex Williams.
“The difficulty is that because there’s a correlation between the two doesn’t meant that the Facebook use is causing the depressive symptoms,” Williams said. “It could be that using Facebook causes people to be more depressed; it could be that more depressed people turn to Facebook; or there could be some third variable we don’t know about.”
The national study “Association of Facebook Use with Compromised Well-Being: A Longitudinal Study” seems to have come closer to cause of depression than others before it. The study was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in February and finds Facebook usage is associated with a decrease in mental health, physical health and even life satisfaction.
There’s been a lack of consensus on the impact of online social network use and well-being because of the complexity of these associations, but also because of the difficulties inherent in measuring social media use and assessing impact using observational studies, according to the study.
The study then claims it overcame some weaknesses by using measuring Facebook use and three waves of data, each wave representing a different year from 2013 to 2015 and accounting for information across all demographics.
The study says liking others’ posts and clicking links are consistently related to well-being and the number of status updates are related to reports of diminished mental health. Having a greater number of Facebook friends shows a positive correlation of well-being, but doesn’t retain any significance in areas where decreased mental health, physical health and life satisfaction did retain significance.
Still, psychologists like Williams express the need for an experimental study instead of observation to diagnose causation.
“We need a controlled group of people not using Facebook and then a randomly assigned group of people,” Williams said. “And then we need to compare outcomes between the two.”
Williams says it’s possible the link may never be deemed fully causal, simply because of how difficult it is to measure well-being with the differences of each individual.
The study concluded that its results are consistent across three distinct outcomes, which suggested that “overall, Facebook use does not promote well-being,” and users would do well to “focus instead on real-world relationships.”