As anxiety and depression increase among adolescents and young adults, some blame heavy use of social media for today’s mental health concerns. A new study finds that evidence of time spent on social media is not linked to loneliness, social anxiety, or other disorders.
Authors of the study suggest that the manner in which platforms are used may be the issue.
Researchers at the University of Central Florida surveyed 467 young adults on a variety of online attitudes and behaviors, including how important they considered social media, the amount of time they spent on their favorite platforms daily, and the general ways in which they used networking sites.
Researchers found that there was little correlation between time spent and the various incidences of mental health issues linked to decreased empathy, social anxiety, loneliness, and suicidal ideation.
“We do not deny the potential for some online behaviors to be associated with mental health problems, rather we propose that research focus on the behavior of individuals rather than assume media is the root cause of all socio-personal problems,” explains lead researcher Chloe Berryman.
According to the study, the only worrisome trend had to do with vaguebooking. Vaugebooking any update on a social network, such as Facebook, that is intentionally vague. Status updates which fall under the category of vaguebooking can be long or short, but most comprise just a few simple words. Regardless of the length, they all have one thing in common – to elicit a response from friends and followers. Young people who tended to often write such posts were found to be lonelier, and to have more suicidal thoughts than others.
The authors of the study state that vaugebooking is a slightly predictive sign of suicidal ideation which may show warning signs of serious issues.
“It is, therefore, possible that some forms of social media use may function as a ‘cry for help’ among individuals with pre-existing mental health problems,” says Berryman in a press release.
Overall, the study suggests that how people use social media is more critical than the actual time they spend online, with the exception of vaugebooking, in regards to mental health.