Social Media is Linked to Depression

Researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology have linked depressive symptoms in college students to their internet usage. It’s a small study, only 216 participants over 1 month, but the correlation quantifies what other researches have hypothesized. This is the first of its kind that overlaid subjects actual internet usage and diagnostic testing. Participants were college students on a closed network. So once they agreed to participate the researchers gained access to their real time usage via the schools network.

In short, the more time subjects spent checking social media sites like Facebook, chatting online, and shopping– especially late at night, the more depressive symptoms were measured.

In this paper, we report our findings on a month long experiment conducted at Missouri University of Science and Technology on associating depressive symptoms among college students with their Internet usage using real Internet data collected in an unobtrusive and privacy preserving manner over the campus network. In our study, 216 undergraduates were surveyed for depressive symptoms using the CES-D scale. We then collected their on-campus Internet usage characterized via Cisco NetFlow data. Subsequent analysis revealed that several Internet usage features like average packets per flow, peer-to-peer (octets, packets and duration), chat octets, mail (packets and duration), ftp duration, and remote file octets exhibit a statistically significant correlation with depressive symptoms. Additionally, Mann-Whitney U-tests revealed that average packets per flow, remote file octets, chat (octets, packets and duration) and flow duration entropy have a statistically significant difference in the mean values across groups with and without depressive symptoms. 


This fits into the advice I share in my seminar, (and forthcoming book co-authored with Marko) A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Social Media, that parents need to focus less on WHAT their kids are looking at and more on WHERE and WHEN they are using the internet.

ht to Mashable and Huffington Post UK

Photo credit: Ars Electronica via Flickr (Creative Commons)





3 responses to “Social Media is Linked to Depression”

  1. The Church State Guy Avatar

    Really glad someone is researching this, especially among young folks. My guess though is that their high internet usage is more a symptom of the depression rather than a cause. They’re “reaching out”… perhaps desperately, and not able to connect well in the real world, so they possibly connect better online. Or they are happier about their online persona than their face-to-face persona. I’m no psychologist, so it’s just my speculation, but that’s probably how I would approach a college student about it first about it and see what they think about that.

    On the other hand, they are probably also not personally aware enough to be able to distinguish between their online and offline personas anyway…

    Sorry, thinking a loud a bit here. It’s got me thinking! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Adam McLane Avatar

      If I read the report correctly, their level of depressive state was measured repeatedly. So, it was less when not using the internet at all, and went up based on the length of usage and types of activities. It looks like chatting is about the most depressing thing followed by late night social media. Pretty interesting that they merged real usage patterns as opposed to reported usage patterns.

      I think the question for parents (and ourselves) is what are we going to do about it?

      One thing I’ve done increasingly over the past 3-4 months is turning off Twitter/Facebook while I’m working. Besides being really distracting, I think that less usage has actually made my engagement on the sites more intentional and even more meaningful. (As opposed to always feeling like I had to be on or I’d miss something!)

      1. The Church State Guy Avatar

        But even that methodology doesn’t prove a cause-and-effect. It would be seriously difficult to PROVE that social media makes one depressed.

        Totally with you on keeping alerts off, even text messages and stuff. Checking in intentionally makes me feel much more “in control” too.

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