New study shows how screen time impacts teen depression


Spending too much time on social media or watching television is linked to increased symptoms of depression among teens, a new study suggests.

According to the study, which followed 4,000 Montreal-area high school students between grades seven and 11, time spent watching television and on social media was related to increases in depressive symptoms.

"I would nearly compare it to smoking in the 1970's, where the very negative effects are still relatively unknown", said Boers, who added that teenagers, on average, consume six to seven hours of screen time each day.

Social media and television are forms of media that frequently expose adolescents to images of others operating in more prosperous situations, such as other adolescents with ideal bodies and a more exciting or rich lifestyle.

Depression and other mental health struggles seem only to be becoming more unbearable for teenagers. The study did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between depression and heavy social media or television use. 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.

Now, another research in the fray has come up with concrete data illustrating the ill-effects of social media on the mental health of teenagers.

During the study, the researchers followed nearly 4,000 Canadian teenagers from ages 12 to 16 years.

These negative feelings are exacerbated by algorithms created to feed users with content similar to what they've already consumed, said Boers, a post-doctoral researcher at the Universite de Montreal's psychiatry department.

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The study concluded social media use by teens should be regulated to prevent "the development of depression" and to "reduce exacerbation of existing symptoms over time". The researchers featured their research in JAMA Pediatrics on July 15.

Dr. Patricia Conrod, the senior author and a professor of psychiatry at the University of Montreal and researcher at the Sainte-Justine Research Centre, said she hopes the study will help guide the design of new intervention strategies for at-risk youth before the symptoms become clinically visible.

Though they distinguish a positive association, the study notes that it doesn't necessarily distinguish what social media applications or types of television are most associated with depression.

"If one is being exposed to the same content over and over and over again, that spiral or loop maintains itself", said Boers.

Dr Bernadka Dubicka, chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists' child and adolescent faculty, said: "This paper is one of the most comprehensive pieces of research to date looking at how different types of technology can have an impact on young people's mental health".

The tendency to already watch high levels of television over four years without an increase was associated with less depression. This is highly encouraging from a prevention perspective, she added.

"Early identification of vulnerability to depression gives clinicians and parents a large window of time in which to intervene", Conrod said.